Latest News

How a 5-year-old's 'pretend play' resulted in a school suspension

Modesto parents are upset that their 5-year-old son's "pretend play" resulted in him being suspended from school, and said they want the disciplinary action removed from his permanent record.

Jackson Riley attends the Great Valley Academy public charter school in Modesto and was suspended for a day for making terrorist threats, TV station Fox 40 reported.

The incident occurred Aug. 31, Jackson's father, Ian Riley, told The Bee. He got a call from the school saying the kindergartner had refused to take off his backpack and, when asked why, said there was a bomb in it that would explode if he did so.

Riley said he was asked to pick up Jackson, who would be given a one-day suspension. "I said, I'll come get him, but I'm not sure what a suspension will do for a 5-year-old. They said, 'It's what we have to do.'"

Riley said Jackson loves his teachers, as do he and his wife, Michelle. "We have two kids there and the teachers are amazing," he said. "Our issue is with the administration's knee-jerk reaction."

The school initially sent the Rileys a letter saying their son was suspended for his intent to "threaten, intimidate or harass others." The family was told that was the school code violation that best fit what happened, Ian Riley said.

When the Rileys pointed out that code applied only to fourth- through 12th-graders, not kids as young as Jackson, the school agreed and so sent a second letter, changing the violation to one about making terrorist threats.

"My son never made a threat, never wanted to blow up the school," Riley said. "He was almost victimizing himself in his imagination, making himself the hero" by keeping the backpack on.

Though it was "all in the world of pretend play," Michelle Riley told Fox, his not wanting to take off the backpack meant Jackson didn't want to hurt anyone. "Where was the threat?"

The parents had a conversation with Jackson about what is OK to say and do at school and what is not. "We had a bigger conversation about when they tell you to take your backpack off, you do it. You follow the rules," Ian Riley said.

They thought that would be the end of it, but then learned that the suspension would be on Jackson's permanent school record, Riley said. They've had meetings with the principal and vice principal and been told, "It's what legal told us to do," Riley said. The couple now are scheduled to meet with Great Valley Academy's CEO on Friday, he said.

As for 5-year-old Jackson, his takeaway is that you can't say "bomb" at school, his dad said. The child knows nothing about making the news, which was picked up by CNN and been shared across the nation.

"He's a happy boy and still is a happy boy," Riley said. "We didn't come down on him with fire and fury over this." Jackson's explanation to his parents was that he was pretending and pranking. "We told him not everybody wants to be pranked," Riley said.

And Jackson seems to have largely forgotten about the incident, his dad said. "The next day, he was out in our back yard picking flowers to bring to his teacher."

Great Valley Academy would not comment on the specific case, Fox 40 reported, but issued a statement saying it takes student safety and discipline very seriously.

The Bee also sought comment from Great Valley, but got no immediate response.