After a controversial incident at an elementary school in October, the Rutherford County School Board is considering a policy change regarding toy guns.
The school board unanimously approved a revision to district policy that would allow suspensions for possession of toy weapons on school property.
The change approved on first reading. It will need to be approved by the board again at the school board's next meeting on November 29 before the revision is effective.
During the October incident, a child brought plastic toy guns to school to give as gifts to other classmates. It happened at Barfield Elementary School off Highway 231 in Murfreesboro.
The student is Muslim and the gifts were part in celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid, which includes gift giving as one of the customs, according to Rutherford County Schools' spokesperson James Evans.
“It just seems unreasonable that some parent would even think that that's acceptable,” said Ron Kairdolf, a parent and pastor in Murfreesboro.
In a statement sent to Nashville's News 2, Evans explained, “A Muslim parent sent small gift bags for her child's fourth-grade classmates. The goodie bags contained gender-specific toys, and two of the boy's bags included a small plastic toy gun.”
One of the students went home with the gun and his parent complained to the school.
“Not only is this inappropriate for the teacher and the parent and student to be allowed to bring gifts on a religious holiday, but also the fact that the gifts were extremely life-like guns,” concerned parent Jim Revett said.
Kairdolf told Nashville's News 2, even more concerning than the toy weapon being brought to school, is the fact that the school allowed a student to celebrate an Islamic holiday.
“I'm very concerned if there is a culture there that is inviting or encouraging Muslim parents to promote Islam and at the same time, there are not opportunities for Christian parents to come and celebrate and promote Christianity.”
School officials told Nashville News 2 that students are allowed to celebrate other religious holidays.
“There is a board policy that states religious holidays can be celebrated at a school,” district spokesman James Evans said. “We can't endorse a religion.”
Student are allowed to bring gift bags in celebration of birthdays.
According to the school board, toy guns don't violate the state's zero tolerance policy or any of the district policies.
Zero tolerance offenses are reserved for actual weapons, drugs and certain types of assaults at school.
A number of concerned parents and residents addressed the school board during the public comment section of the meeting.
“When I learned about the incident at Barfield Elementary with the toy gun I was appalled,” grandparent Vicki Twitty said. “Can you imagine the chaos that could break out if a kid pulled it out on the bus?”
Twitty called on the board to fully investigate the incident, discipline the student and report back to parents. She said the teacher should have searched the bags before handing them out to students.
Rutherford County's Director of Schools Don Odom told parents the district's attorney went to the school and interviewed the teacher to see if any district policies were violated.
He also said the mother of the student was called to the school for a meeting with the principal and the mother apologized for sending the toy guns as gifts.
The student gifting the toy guns was not punished.