MILFORD — On Friday, Milford fifth-grader Nickolas Taylor was in line for lunch, with the weekend just around the corner. But like a lot of 10-year-old boys bursting with energy, he didn’t wait quietly.
Instead, he played a game of shoot-em-up to pass the time, pointing his index finger like a ray gun and making “pew-pew” shooting noises, according to Nickolas’s father, Brian Taylor.
As he battled his imaginary foes, he jumped in front of two girls in the lunch line. They told the assistant principal, who suspended the boy for two days for making a threat.
Nickolas didn’t mind all that much, but his father did.
He aired his grievances to The Milford Daily News, fueling the debate about whether schools have gone too far in cracking down on toy guns — even imaginary ones.
Taylor said he understood that schools are on heightened alert these days to any perceived threats or potential bullying, but criticized the suspension as an overreaction.
“He wasn’t pointing at anyone in particular,” he said. “He was just playing. There were other ways they could have handled it.”
Taylor, 40, said he met with the assistant principal Monday to explain that the incident was just “innocent playing.” But he said the principal told him Nickolas had pretended to shoot directly at the girls, which amounted to a threat.
“He just kept saying it was against policy,” the father said in an interview Wednesday at his Milford home. “He wouldn’t see the common sense.”
In a “conduct referral” form the school gave to Taylor, school officials wrote that “the young ladies informed Nick he was not allowed to cut the line.
“At that time Nick acted out, shooting the two girls with a gun made from his hand. He then blew on his fingers as if to cool off the gun barrel,” it said.
In a statement, school officials said the girls reported “what they believed to be a threatening gesture,” and that the suspension was consistent with discipline handed down “with other incidents of a threatening nature.”
The superintendent of schools, Robert Tremblay, and the Stacy Middle School principal, Nancy Angelini, had a “productive meeting” with Taylor on Wednesday that resolved the matter, according to the statement.
“All parties agree that this particular incident has raised our collective awareness of the need to better identify and respond to how our students interact with each other and how we respond as adults,” read the statement. “Perceptions of threats can be as real as the threat itself.”
Tremblay said in an interview that school officials will review their zero tolerance policies to determine if there are instances where rules “need to be considered more carefully.”
He also defended the suspension of Nickolas.
“Was it overreacting to it? I don’t think so,” Tremblay said. “You can’t minimize how the person on the receiving end of the gesture felt.”
But the chairman of the town’s school board, Scott Harrison, criticized the penalty.
“If this was an issue where we believe that the child could possibly cause some harm, I don’t know how sending him home resolves the issue or gets this child the help that he needs,” Harrison said.
He said the school should have found “a remedy, not a punishment.”
William D. Buckley, a member of the Board of Selectmen, was also critical of the suspension.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Buckley said. “For a 10-year-old who used sounds like a laser [when pointing his finger] . . . I would tell you that the appropriate response is to reach out to that child and talk to him, in my opinion.”
Taylor said Nickolas loves video games and told him all the boys play pretend shooting games at recess and shout laser-like sounds.
Nickolas has attention-deficit disorder, which can affect his schoolwork, his father said. But he is a solid student and generally enjoys school.
At the school, several parents said they were surprised by the suspension, saying Nickolas meant no harm and that punishing students for pretending would never work
Said one mother: “Boys will be boys.”
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.