Catholic school has zero-tolerance policy against violence, real or imagined

By Hilary Shenfeld
Updated November 06, 2015 11:00 AM

The little 6-year-old boy was out on the playground at his Ohio school pretending to be a Power Ranger with the other first graders when he decided to deploy his secret – and imaginary – weapon.

He drew back his arm and pretended to shoot his invisible bow and arrow. In doing so, however, he violated the Catholic school’s zero-tolerance policy on violence of any kind, whether real or make-believe, and was suspended for three days, according to his father, Matthew Miele.

“I feel it was a severe overreaction,” Miele tells PEOPLE. He says the punishment was far too harsh, and he wants the school to revise its policies. “Obviously this suspension is not a teaching moment,” he says.

The principal of the elementary school, Our Lady of Lourdes school in Cincinnati, did not reply to PEOPLE’s requests for comment, but in a letter to parents (verified as authentic by Miele) he laments the fact that such pretend play is no longer acceptable, but contends that strong measures are necessary, particularly in light of real school shootings and other violence.

“These games are not appropriate in a Catholic school, or any other school setting,” Principal Joe Crachiolo wrote. “It is not ‘fun’ and certainly not Catholic to pretend to harm another person.”

He noted that similar imaginary games might have been acceptable years ago, and even something that he himself engaged in, but that now, when “Schools have been in the news far too often due to violence, threats and the like,” that type of play “is no longer appropriate.”

As such, he wrote, “I have no tolerance for any real, pretend, or imitated violence.”

Miele, 36, a Cincinnati firefighter, and his wife, Martha, 35, a nurse at a children’s hospital, say their son, who had no prior disciplinary reports, was sad when he was learned after the Oct. 29 incident that he couldn’t return to school. “He was kind of upset and confused,” Matthew Miele says. “I don’t think he understands that it was violent. He’s thinking, ‘I’m acting out a character.'”

That kind of imaginary play is beneficial for kids, he said. “It’s incredibly important for a child developing his abstract thought and empathy,” Miele says, who likened the fantasy violence to that in Peter Pan other children’s plays.

Martha Miele said her son was told on the first day of school about the restrictions, but “He told me, ‘Mom, I just forgot,'” she tells PEOPLE. She would like the school to exercise discretion when determining what, if any, type of punishment should be imposed. “He’s a little boy playing a game,” she says. “He’s not malicious.”

The couple said their son will finish out the school year, and knows to follow the rules.

“I told him, ‘Right now we can’t have any superpower play at school,” says Matthew Miele, who isn’t certain if his boy will return for second grade. He plans to work on getting the policy changed. “I hope we’re able to show him that adults can disagree and bring positive solutions out of it.”