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Back to school: New Ken first-grader with toy gun returns to class Monday

| Friday, June 6, 2014, 1:30 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Darin Simak, 7, walks into the New Kensington-Arnold School District central administration building with his parents, Chris Simak and Jennifer Mathabel for a disciplinary hearing on Friday, June 6, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Darin Simak, 7, walks into the New Kensington-Arnold School District central administration building with his parents, Chris Simak and Jennifer Mathabel for a disciplinary hearing on Friday, June 6, 2014.

The Martin Elementary School first-grader suspended because he accidentally brought a toy gun to school on Wednesday can return to school on Monday.

During a disciplinary hearing on Friday morning, New Kensington-Arnold Superintendent John Pallone ruled Darin Simak,7, will be allowed to return to Martin School, the student's parents said.

Monday is the last day of classes in the district.

“I'm glad he can go back to school on Monday and get his last couple of toys the teacher took throughout the year and, of course, his report card,” said Chris Simak, the boy's father. “He was upset that he was going to miss the last day of school.”

Simak said his son's punishment will be a two-day suspension, Thursday and Friday.

Darin's mother, Jennifer Mathabel, said she understands why her son was disciplined.

But she thinks the district could've used more discretion because the boy turned himself in to his teacher when he realized he had the small, silver toy pistol with an orange tip.

“They did what they had to do,” Mathabel said. “No one is exempt from the rules.

“My biggest issue with this is that I have worked so hard with him over the school year, aligning with his teachers and counselors, about making the right choice and making the right decision and ‘think before you act.'

“And this kid clearly (did the right thing by self-reporting), and this is the message that we're sending him now by being punished.”

Pallone said he can not confirm or deny that a meeting was held.

“The district is not permitted under the law to discuss student records without authorization from the parents,” he said.

Under the policy, even a toy gun is considered a “weapon replica,” he said.

“We are very objective in applying our discipline policy in all grade levels and throughout the school district,” Pallone said. “We review the matter, have an informal meeting with the student and/or parents or guardians and determine what avenue that the district will follow, which includes discipline of whatever permitted levels exist.”

Darin has been suspended two other times this school year, once for pushing another student and once for teasing.

Mathabel attributes her son's behavior problems to the medication he was put on for ADHD, which he was diagnosed with near the beginning of the school year.

“He didn't react well to it,” she said. “Academically he did very well on it; behavior-wise, he didn't.”

She said that since he was taken off the medication, his behavior has been better, which is why she was so upset about this situation.

“When it comes down to it, he could ‘go left' or he could ‘go right,' and he went right,” she said. “I'm sure his mind was racing at the moment.”

Mathabel said she hopes the school district will review its policy and change how it handles these cases for students kindergarten through sixth grade.

“I hope that they can look at every case on an individual basis,” she said.

However, she understands how difficult that would be for the district.

“I know he (Pallone) doesn't have staff for that, it's difficult financially to give attention like that,” she said.

Pallone said the school board's policy committee is discussing revising the student disciplinary policy to a two-tiered approach, which would provide different punishment for younger students and older students on some matters.

“You can't treat a first-grader the same as you treat a 12th-grader,” Pallone said.

Pallone did not know whether this change would apply to the weapons policy.

When asked if he would turn himself into his teacher again, Darin said, “Yes!”

Jodi Weigand contribued to this story. Emily Balser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-7710 or ebalser@tribweb.com.

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