Mount Carmel Area School District officials, who have been heavily criticized over the suspension of a 5-year-old kindergarten student for alleging telling classmates that she was going to shoot them and herself with her pink Hello Kitty Bubble Gun, claim information provided to the media about the incident may not be consistent with the facts.
In a statement issued to the media on behalf of the school district, Mount Carmel Area Superintendent Bernie Stellar says, "Mount Carmel Area School District has been criticized for the handling of an incident that occurred recently. Although by law we cannot officially comment on the specifics of the incident involving students, we are confident that much of the information supplied to the media may not be consistent with the facts in this matter.
"The Mount Carmel Area School District has investigated the issue and will continue to do so. When given the opportunity in the appropriate forum, we look forward to presenting information that will portray our school district in a more positive light."
The statement continues, "The Mount Carmel Area School District takes the well-being and safety of students and staff very seriously. In discipline matters, all circumstances are taken into consideration when arriving at decisions.
"It is the vision of the Mount Carmel Area educational community to create a safe learning environment that nurtures the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of each child."
The child was reportedly questioned about the incident for three hours before her mother was contacted, said Robin Ficker, 69, an attorney from Bethesda, Md., who is representing the family.
Ficker said the girl, who did not have the toy in her possession at school, was initially suspended for 10 days by Mount Carmel Area Elementary School Principal Susan Nestico in what the school classified as a "terroristic threat." The suspension was later reduced to two days and labeled a "threat to harm others."
On Friday, Stellar said he couldn't comment on the incident or suspension because he's not allowed to discuss student discipline issues.
The alleged incident occurred Thursday, Jan. 10, and the student returned to school Monday, Jan. 14, Ficker said.
He said her parents do not want to discuss the incident with the media. He confirmed the girl who was suspended resides in the Mount Carmel area.
Police were not involved in the incident, according to Mount Carmel Township Police Chief Brian Hollenbush.
During a telephone interview with The News-Item Friday, Ficker said the 5-year-old girl was playing with two friends while waiting in line for the bus while still inside her classroom and spoke about her Hello Kitty gun, which shoots bubbles.
Ficker said the kindergartner mentioned she was going to shoot one of her friends and then herself with the bubble gun so that they could all be together. Then, she was going to shoot herself again when she got home.
Ficker said someone at the school became aware of the conversation and reported it to administrators.
The attorney said the girl's mother told him her daughter has been very upset since the incident.
Ficker said he plans to meet with school district solicitor Edward Greco by the end of this week to discuss the suspension.
Mark Gilger - The News-Item, Shamokin, Pa. (MCT)
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