HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A mother is upset after she said her 6-year-old son was suspended from Forestbrook Elementary for playing with blocks in the shape of a gun.
"We're not talking about a threat being made," Brittney O'Brien said. "We're not talking about my son saying he was going to bring in a gun. We're not talking about him using those blocks and hitting the student. We're talking about play and it's just, this is hard for me because I just don't understand."
O'Brien said she got a call Tuesday morning from a school administrator saying she needed to come pick her son up from school for a one-day suspension for pointing blocks in the shape of a gun at another student.
"My first response, they had me on speakerphone, was to back up the administration in front of my child. I want him to know the authority is always going to be the authority for him," she said.
However, O'Brien said she immediately disagreed with the decision.
"I pulled the assistant principal aside and talked to her and said I felt this consequence was quite extreme for this type of infraction," she said. "That I understood that this deserved consequences, but a conversation or possibly even walking laps at recess would've been much more fitting."
Declan said he was pulling blocks off of a structure of connected blocks shaped like a rectangle when he noticed the shape had changed.
"When I first broke it apart, it turned into a gun," he said.
That's when he said he pointed it at a rocking chair and a student walked in front of it. He said he didn't say anything while pointing the blocks.
O'Brien said the assistant teacher noticed and pulled her son aside.
She said when the teacher came back into the room, Declan was taken to administrators and given a referral with a one-day suspension.
"If his age had been different, if he was older, maybe," O'Brien said. "If it was an actual toy gun or he was saying, 'I'm going to shoot you.' But we're talking about blocks. I can't get over that part."
"It wasn't fair," Declan said. "Because at first I didn't point it at [the student]. She just moved in the way."
The disciplinary referral said the other student said she would have died if Declan was holding a real gun.
Horry County Schools Spokesperson Teal Britton said she cannot comment on the incident due to student privacy rights.
The student discipline code discusses actual weapons and look-alike guns. It doesn't say anything about other objects in the shape of guns or pretending to have a gun, but Britton said if an object, such as a pencil, is used in a certain way to mimic harm, then that object turns into something else.
"It was toy blocks. It makes no sense. I'm baffled," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said she wasn't told what exact policy her son violated. The referral did not indicate which code had been violated.
When she was appealing the suspension to the principal, she said she was told Declan had brought in a water gun at the beginning of the school year. She said she didn't know about that happening and her family doesn't even own water guns.
She said the suspension doesn't make sense.
"My kids misbehave. My kids are not perfect little angels. If my son had hit a child, 'Sorry buddy, that's what happens. You know that you can't hit other students.' If my son had brought in a Nerf gun, 'Sorry, you know that's not OK,'" she said. "The punishment needs to fit the crime."
She worries about his permanent record and plans to appeal the decision.
"That seems like a really unnecessary punishment for not doing anything wrong," she said.
O'Brien said her children like to play outside and use sticks or their fingers to pretend they have guns.
"I don't mean, 'Oh I'm going to kill you with my pretend gun,' but imaginative play," she said. "They dress up like Ninja Turtles."
She said she didn't allow her children to have toy guns until they got Nerf guns for Christmas last year.
"A big thing was I didn't want them to ever equate guns with being toys, so I rather encouraged pretending they might have a gun in a make-believe sense versus actually having a toy gun," O'Brien said.
She said she will still encourage Declan to use his imagination.
"If they're going to play guns and that's what gets them outside, especially if they're not actual toy guns, but sticks and branches and their fingers, I'm definitely more happy with that than I would be with them playing video games inside," she said.
We posted a live poll to the WMBF News Facebook page, and over 1,100 people said they disagreed with the school's decision, versus about 160 people who agreed: