Teacher “required” to report drawing of gun in Sansone case

The teacher and principal in the Neaveh Sansone case should not be fired, or even reprimanded, because in Ontario, such reportage is not only expected but legally required.

Frankly, it also doesn’t really matter at this point that the gun in Neaveh’s drawing was a toy gun (H/T BLY).  What matters now is the fact that the complaints have become as hysterical as the incident itself.

Well, sorry but the last thing we need to come out of this situation is teacher and police second-guessing when and if they should protect someone. This is not about Ontario becoming a nanny state. We have had the same child protection laws since I taught elementary and secondary school in the 70s and 80s.

Plus, remember, hindsight is always 20/20. So lets look at two what-ifs — scenarios Neaveh’s teacher would have faced.

Scenario One: Imagine a teacher seeing the drawing of a child’s daddy with a gun. The teacher asks the child why he or she drew that picture and the child says to show that her daddy uses the gun to keep away the monsters. The teacher doesn’t perceive a threat to the child, so he or she doesn’t report the incident.  However, the art work, like all art work, goes into the child’s folder.  Fast forward a month later and the entire family is shot and the father commits suicide. No, this is not applicable in this case, but the what if is there. When the public finds out that the teacher saw such a drawing, they would be outraged, and rightly so. It could have been a warning, a way for a very young child to show what she couldn’t put into words.  Yes, this situation turned out differently, but no one knows that before hand.

Scenario Two: Now, imagine the same drawing and the same teacher decision to simply put the art work in the child’s file.  However, in this scenario, a few days after the child does the drawing, a friend or relative of the child picks up an unsecured weapon in their home and accidentally shoots and kills him or her. The public would have been just as outraged that the teacher had concerns based on the drawing but did nothing.

Plus, the issue that Neaveh was just being imaginative doesn’t ring true to me.  I taught visual art for years. I also offered primary art classes after school as an extra curricular activity. One of the elementary schools I taught in was a rural school encompassing many farms where there would have been legal guns. Yet, in all that time (plus when I used to supervise teachers in training), I never ever saw a child draw a picture of a gun warding off monsters, a knife or any other possible weapon.

So yes, while we live in a free and democratic society, it is a society with a social contract and the police are, in effect, there to uphold that contract. And, as society gets more complex and on the Internet, that social contract is spreading into some of our areas of privacy.  Which mean that those who primarily uphold that contract, such as the police, need to include some common sense to their procedures. However, it is very important that the teachers who do the initial reporting do not second guess their decisions in order to avoid being tarred and feathered in the media and the Internet.

In other words, there is no reason for libertarian paranoia and tying the hands of those meant to protect us and our children by making something out of this incident that is just not there. That is not to say that this incident was not appalling for Jessie Sansone and his family. It was and hopefully police forces across this country and beyond will learn from it.

But, what it wasn’t, was an expression of progressive ideology or at attack on legal gun owners.  It was simply about making sure a child was safe because, as teachers and principals unfortunately know only too well, there are many children at risk every day of their lives.

Therefore, I decided to stick my neck out on this one. I may be a conservative but I do not think educators, social services and law enforcement are our enemies. While I have no doubt, some will minimize what I have written here simply on the basis of: “Well, what can you expect, she is a former teacher,” it was preciely because of that previous experience, and knowing something about the Ontario Child and Services Act, that I agree with Gregg Bereznick of the Waterloo Region District School Board, when he said: “We did what we were supposed to do.”

33 thoughts on “Teacher “required” to report drawing of gun in Sansone case

  1. Pingback: I start to see the light | Blue Like You

  2. Instead of flying off the handle and arresting the father, why can’t they just ask him first if there is even a real gun in his house? What if the girl saw him playing Halo and shooting aliens with guns in-game? If she draws a picture of that we should ship her off to CPS and arrest the family right? Just to make sure everyone’s safe?

    This is totally ridiculous and gestapo behaviour on the part of the state.


  3. Hi Sandy,
    Thanks for the thoughtful post. However, I think you are off base on this one. There is nothing illegal about having guns in the home nor about handling guns in front of your children. In fact, it could be argued that if you do haves guns in the home it is probably prudent to handle these guns in a safe manner in front of the children – it is a nessecary skill if you have guns in your life. The picture depicted nothing illegal nor dangerous but rather showed that the girl thinks of her father as protector, just as my daughter does. If the picture showed the father threatening a family member with the gun, your argument would have merit but there was nothing concerning a out the picture, unless you believe guns are inherently evil.


  4. Marcel — I hear you. My problem is I have a graduate degree in educational psychology. I know that a four year old child does not yet have the cognitive skills or experience to know what her picture depicts. She is simply expressing an emotion, not that her father is her protector. That is your adult interpretation.

    But, we live in a free country and I knew I would get flack for my position. However, based on doing educational assessment for years in private practice and my teaching experience, I stand by what I say. Moreover, I have a feeling there is going to be more to this case than we know now.

    Had the child been 7 or 8 I would agree with you, but not 4.

    Plus, as I said, this has nothing to do with gun ownership.


  5. Pingback: O’Connor: Arrest over daughter’s gun sketch a case of vigilance and too much zeal (1) | Jack's Newswatch

  6. Hi Sandy,
    There might be more to the story, you are probably right. However, based on the reported facts I see no reason why a picture of a gun used safely for it’s intended purpose should raise any red flags. It doesn’t have anything to do with gun ownership, it does have something to do with attitudes toward to legally acquired property. BTW, i also have a grad degree in Ed psych, maybe I am coming at this issue from a diffent cultural understanding of guns.


  7. Marcel — I studied cognitive and reality therapy so that is the perspective I am coming from in this situation — how to develop curriculum and how to teach using an understand of how children learn and their cognitive milestones along the way.

    So, I am not even worrying about the gun per se.

    Rather, I am thinking about the stages of emotional and cognitive development. At four years of age, this child would still be in the pre-operational/magical thinking emotional stage. As you know, that is very different than later in concrete operations. So, IMO, people are attributing motivation for the topic of her drawing based on incorrect assumptions.

    Monsters and hiding from them are normal at that age. But, adding a gun is not unless she is trying to say something in a picture that she can’t articule in words. But, that notion could be wrong too. She may have simply seen a movie with a gun in it or watched her brother play a game of cops and robbers. I don’t know.

    However, I am just not prepared to suggest that it is much ado about nothing.

    Of course, the father’s strip search by the police was ridiculous. No argument from me there. Hopefully, the Waterloo and other police forces will learn what not to do from this case.


  8. Sandy – are you concerned about how the children in this family have been traumatized by all of this? Seems the kids are the last ones to be considered yet, they experienced something here that I’m betting no other child in that school has EVER experienced.


  9. Catherine — Of course I am concerned about Neaveh. What I have reacted to is the backlash that teachers should butt out and shut up and mind their own business.

    If teachers do take that message from all this — speak up and you will be pilloried in the media and on the Internet — kids are going to be abused and even worse, with no one to advocate for them. No one. And why? Because of our entitlement to privacy? Even if we are doing something wrong with our kids?

    The good news is this young girl will get over this quicky if her family doesn’t draw her into it even more. Hopefully, her family will get her counselling to deal with the why of it all. The reality is that most of us don’t even remember what happened to us at that age — unless we are reminded of it for years to come.

    A case in point. I have followed the Elizabeth Smart case and she is a marvel. She just got married and looks so happy. She proves that a loving family — who let her deal with her trauma in her own way — helps youngsters heal.

    Anyway, all that said, the hysteria and awful reaction by conservatives about Bill C-30 and related issues, bothers me as well. It has showed a very ugly side to partisanship.


  10. “The good news is this young girl will get over this quicky if her family doesn’t draw her into it even more. ”

    Her family didn’t initiate this incident Sandy, but it’s the parents left in the end helping their kids.

    In all that I’ve read I haven’t actually read that teachers should butt out or shut up.

    No matter how the teacher reacted in this case a child was in the middle of it all. A child whose drawing was considered serious enough to raise alarm bells for the child’s safety on the part of many in authority (one part of that being the teacher) but if they went overboard, she’s just a 4 year old who will not remember. I hope you’re right.

    No parent should be treated the way this father was. No excuse at all unless there was proven threat.


  11. Catherine — A clarification please. My post is not about police conduct or have I in any way minimized what the young girl went through.

    Plus lots of people on other blogs have suggested both the teacher and the principal be fired.

    That is really all my post is about. Plus an explanation that teachers don’t have any choice. They must report their suspicions about abuse or neglect. As such, it is actually unfair to even hint that I do not have empathy for the parents or the child. Of course I do. Plus, people are using this example to trash Bill C-30. Things are out of control all around on this issue IMO.

    However, since Sims reported on SNN that the father knew the principal pretty well, I think perhaps the buck should stop there. Why didn’t he or she just say: “We need to talk.”

    That said, I am a little puzzled with people who think teachers and principals should somehow accept that legal gun owners should never be questioned. How on earth can anyone make that judgment? Now, if a child is doing a drawing about history, war or crime, no biggie if that was part of a class discussion. But, out of the blue?

    This whole issue is very depressing, not only for all the misunderstanding and horror it has caused to so many but how it is showing our society has broken down into factions, to law abiding gun ownership and few police interventions to the opposite extreme. And,that is ugly.


  12. Here’s what’s weird in the followup article:

    Thaler said investigators never saw the drawing that sparked the investigation. Sansone has not seen it. Bereznick won’t acknowledge a drawing exists. Alison Scott, the executive director of Family and Children’s Services, says the agency may or may not have a copy of the child’s drawing.

    Something doesn’t add up here.


  13. Re: “The good news is this young girl will get over this quicky if her family doesn’t draw her into it even more.”


    I once handled a case where an angry mom beat the hell out of a young man who touched her four year old daughter the wrong way. He went to jail for four years and is now undergoing a trial as a dangerous offender for further crimes. She asked me at the time how she should handle the situation regarding her child. I advised to “play it down”.

    “If it’s no big deal to the parent it won’t be to the child” and so it turned out. That child never looked back and is today successful in her life.

    Truth: Parents for good reason get all “bent out of shape” when something happens to their children and oftentimes it only makes the situation worse. As you correctly point out the welfare of the child is the most important thing — not the feelings of the parents. Frequently adults turn a bad situation into something that remains with the child throughout life.

    It doesn’t have to be that way. It is because the parents don’t stop to think as righteous anger takes over.


  14. I hear you…believe me when I say that.
    There is a hint of nothing in my post. You should know me better than that. I haven’t seen anything suggesting firing the teacher on the blogs that I frequent. Not surprising that we might frequent different ones.
    You’re right. “We need to talk” would have been the better route in this case.


  15. Just a general comment, Cathy. I’m not singling anyone out for special attention here. I understand how you feel but I want to broaden horizons when it comes to children just as Sandy does. I love them also.


  16. “But the problem is vigilance, peppered with some zeal, and a four-year-old’s accounting of events, and a system where nobody bothers to pick up the phone and call the father, or the mother, to have a conversation, can quickly turn into an innocent man getting groped by officers and given a blanket and told to settle in for the night.”

    that no one actually picked up a phone is stunning. That’s usually right at the top of the procedures list should the school have a problem and vice-versa.


  17. just glad my children are no longer young.
    One fathers day card my youngest made at school and gave to his dad says I quote
    I love my dad he takes me out and we have fun.
    I love him best when him takes us out shooting and hunting.
    If that was today he probably would have been raised by foster parents.
    By the way he was 4 when that was written for him since he couldn’t write at the time.
    I have studied child psycology and abnormal psycology and a lot of what is written and studied is definetly not real life.
    Sometimes what psycologists want you to do with your children is just too strange for words.
    Children do understand much more than adults think. You just have to ask and then listen to the answer.


  18. Yes, you’re right Jack. All of us are paying too much attention to media reports. As a retired cop, no one would know that better than you.

    So, time to chill out and wait it out I guess. I thought I should write this post, however, because of the way people were off the wall condemning the teacher and principle.

    Everyone here, however, has been very respectful, even if we have had differing opinions. I thought I should mention that and thank everyone very much.


  19. Grandma, as one grandma to another, the issue is not generalized fear against hunting and shooting. Your kids would be fine.

    There is something else going on in this situation and I agree with Jack that we should wait and get all the facts – assuming they are made public.

    As far as the study of pyschology, it depends on which approaches you are taught. My area of study were very practical and hands-on, based on the earlier work of Jean Piaget — knowing when kids learn what and how they learn best — quite unlike the old Freudian psychoanalystic and Skinnerian abnormal behavioural stuff.

    Yes, sometimes kids understand more than adults think.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  20. Jack — I meant to thank you yesterday for stopping by. This is certainly a controversial topic. For those who are not familiar with Jack, he is the boss at Jack’s Newswatch and the guy who encouraged many of us Blogging Tories back in 2006 and 2007.


  21. my studying was done 37 years ago.
    I am a mental retardation councellor. see even before the days of political correctness.
    So a lot of my ideas are old but 30 years ago I had to deal with a psycologist to get my youngest son then 1 year old out of the hospital.
    She seemed to think I loved one child more than the other and that was why he was throwing up all the time.
    That was a nasty confrontation so psycologists are not high on my list especially when they have never had children and say what they know is right and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.
    anyway enjoy your articles. they make sense most times and it is a good way to argue within my own head.
    sometimes you even win.


  22. Hi Grandma — I don’t consider myself a psychologist because my emphasis was on learning. So, I’m simply a retired educator or a Learning or Education Consultant. I also have an adult son with autism and learning disabilities. So, my relationship with parents has always been as an equal. I “know” what it is like to have a child with disabilities 24/7. Now I also have a daughter-in-law with developmental/intellectual and physical disabilities — what used to be referred to as high functioning mental retardation. I don’t like that term at all and my reasons have nothing to do with political correctness. It is a demeaning term IMO.

    Re psychologists not having children themselves. I can identify with that. Whenever I was invited to speak to parents, whether it was at a conference or a Learning Disabilities Assoc meeting, I alway started off telling them I too was a parent of two, one with severe learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder. I would actually see people relaxing as though to say “Ah, thankfully, she knows what we need to know.” Mind you, I didn’t always. But, I could share ideas that had been shown from research to work.

    Anyway, many thanks for sharing. It is always nice to get a new regular.

    By the way, 30 years is not a long time. Some of what I did was that long ago as well. So, don’t minimize what you did and what you know.


  23. what used to be referred to as high functioning mental retardation. I don’t like that term at all and my reasons have nothing to do with political correctness. It is a demeaning term IMO.
    I so agree with this statement. Our instructor in College always referred to them as clients. I think that was one of the reasons I respected him so much.
    I enjoy your posts because they do contain a lot of common sense. Your attitudes reflect a lot of my own.
    I got involved in the school system because my son was going to be labelled slightly retarded. He could not read and had difficulty being understood. He was dislexic and there was no program in our small town to help him. So I told the principal to give me 1 month before he made any final decision and he would be reading. I did it by myself in some unconventional ways but he was reading. 2 months later I found out he was alergic to citrus and when ever he had any he turned dislexic. Got him off of that stuff and he is now teaching university students in China. To this day if he gets citrus by accident mostly he uses mirror writing and nobody can understand him because he talks way to fast.
    It is hard to diagnose this because it is a cerebral allergy and doesn’t show on tests where skin tests are involved.
    My other son gets totally depressed. I attended a meeting on teachers responsibilities and found out that if a child was drawing guns, knives dripping blood they were to immediately call psycologists and childrens aid. I said just tell my son to go drink a lot of water. (this cleared his system). I was told that no way would I be consulted since I was probably part of the problem. My husband and I had a fight on our hands and this is why I think the father of the little girl should have been talked to by the authorities instead of being arrested and strip searched.
    Did the police really think he would go to school to pick up his children with a gun in his pocket.
    Maybe a bit of over kill was involved.
    I think of all the things we did with our boys and how many of them would now be considered abuse but which were never in our family.
    We didn’t call our children stupid we didn’t order them to never play with children who were different, we didn’t allow racial slurs and we never hit our sons.
    We did dicipline them when they broke rules but the rules were easy to see that without them they could get hurt.
    We talked to them not at them and we answered each and every question they ever asked us.
    To me that is the important thing. answer questions honestly and listen to the children whether you are a teacher or parent.
    My kindergarten teacher at a parent teacher meeting got up on stage and told the parents that “she wouldn’t believe everything the child told her about the parents if they didn’t believe everything the child told them about her.
    I would add one thing to that, I would check out things and see if it is a serious message or just wanting to embarass the parent. Take action but not over reaction.
    Keep up this interesting blog. Please.


  24. Sandy – it’s not just the four-year-old who was involved. ALL the children were taken into temporary ‘care’ by Children’s Services (whatever their Ontario name) and interviewed while Dad was arrested, etc. So the parents have to contend with all their children (except the baby) who were interrogated about their parents, guns, etc. Had it been only Dad and the preschooler involved, it would be much easier for the family to recover, but there’s going to be a lot of upset, confusion, and anger to overcome.

    And, Sandy, while I respect your expertise, I’ve also had to cope with abusive and ignorant ‘experts’, so I’m somewhat cynical about received wisdoms. As I remember our children as young’uns, they were extremely good at picking up cues as to what we wanted to hear, and responding correspondingly. So I’d read the child’s comment about the gun differently. But then, our family thought “Lizzy’s Lion” was a great poem, and can recite large chunks to this date.


  25. Sandy, thanks for your insights on this issue. I hope when the dust settles, the police will review their actions and learn from them, as they are clearly the biggest part of the problem as reported. For the teacher & principal involved, it seems to be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, but one they are likely quite familiar with.


  26. Frances — I hear you. When my son was a toddler, I was blamed for his behaviour. That was in the late 60s and mothers who had kids with autism were called refrigerator mothers. Very difficult to deal with the disability, let along the unfair criticism. The opposite to now. Nothing about the role of fathers.

    Anyway, nobody has to tell me what its like to be treated wrongly by so-called authorities. I understand completely! Perhaps that is one of the reasons parents always liked dealing with me. No B.S.

    I am not saying the teacher and principal involved in this case were right. I am simply saying the teacher had no choice but to report the incident. I personally think, as I said on here somewhere else, that all the principal had to do was take the dad aside when he came to pick up the kids, “let’s talk.”

    But, I have seen families recover from trauma worse than this because they talked about the issues, had counselling and then moved on. I have also seen children affected for life by parents who became bitter which rubbed off on the kids. So, how this family handles the trauma and the anger is crucial. Yes, it wasn’t of their doing. But, it’s their problem now and they need to find a way through it.

    Cooler heads need to prevail in this case, on all sides.

    [Revised as indicated.]


  27. The way things are going the next story will be someone stripped down at the airport, because they made airplane noises while feeding their overweight kid. Three inspectors asking the person to step inside a strip room, while his wife and children are separated…. and they miss their flight. He is obviously the cause of obesity, and needs to be educated. Imagine using an airplane to cause obesity in a child. No flights for you buster. In order to get out of the airport he has to sign a release, saying it is his fault the child is obese. The release also clears the “inspectors” of any wrong doing. The man’s face is front page story on all news channels that night. The children need to be counseled. The wife is distraught / sarc off


  28. Actually Woody, I heard about a case like that. It didn’t involve an airport but a child was taken away from his single mother until he lost weight. Of course, he was morbidly obese and his life was danger.

    As I said before, this case was obviously over the top. But it would not have been had the principal just said to the father: “Let’s talk.” Or, the police had said that. However, I have no idea what the protocol is and how much commonsense is allowed at the moment. If anything, maybe a bit of that will be put into the reporting procedures in the future.

    However, I sure hope we don’t hear about a tragedy because someone didn’t want to over-react and being caught up in this type of situation.

    One thing I have been told is that once parents are noticed by FACS, it’s constantly like the: “Are you still beating your wife?” leading question. Or the accusation that you are a racist. When you aren’t, you can be accused of being in denial. There is no way to win with either allegation.


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