Boy faces charges for classroom drawing of 'bullet whole' in teacher

Gerry Tuoti

A Mulcahey Middle School teacher is pressing charges against a 10-year-old student after she caught him making a violent stick-figure drawing in class. The sketch shows a figure labeled “me” holding what appears to be a gun. On the other side of the page are figures labeled “Kailey” and “Mrs. Boudreau.” On the head of each, there is a black mark labeled “bullet whole.” The figure labeled “me” is laughing and saying, “Yes.”

“It was inappropriate to draw such a thing in school, however, I feel it should have been handled through the administration,” said Angela Smithson, the mother of  Cullen Smithson.

When police arrived at the school last week after the drawing was brought to the principal’s office, the teacher, Karen Boudreau, 44, spoke with an officer about filing charges against Cullen.

“Ms. Boudreau stated that under the circumstances concerning the child, she wishes to exercise her right to press criminal charges in the hopes that the system could help the child,” the police report states. “Ms. Boudreau also stated that in this day and age with school shootings, she also has to think about the safety of the remainder of the class.”

Cullen, who was suspended from school for one day, will appear in juvenile court, where a magistrate will determine whether to charge him with threatening to commit a crime.

”Flabbergasted” to learn the teacher was filing charges against her son, Smithson has enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Based on what she knows about the case, ACLU attorney Amy Reichbach said she thinks the one-day suspension from school was an appropriate disciplinary action, but she doesn’t think the teacher should have pressed charges.

“Part of it’s a response to Columbine,” she said, referencing the 1999 high school shooting in Littleton, Colo.

“I’m not saying schools should ignore threats,” she added, explaining that students in a similar situation should be assessed individually to determine whether they pose a serious threat. Cullen, she believes, did not pose a threat.

According to the police report, Boudreau said Cullen has had behavioral problems since September. The mother said the boy seldom gets in trouble and sometimes uses drawings to work through his anger.

Reichbach said the ACLU has noticed a national trend in recent years of police becoming more involved in school discipline.

“I think what’s happening now is schools are frequently looking to the criminal justice system,” she said. “There are a number of schools calling the police for things like arguments in the hallways.”

Superintendent Arthur W. Stellar said teachers have the right to pursue charges if they feel it’s appropriate.

“We actually encourage teachers to file charges if there’s any physical assault,” he said. “A physical assault is clear. Beyond that, it’s probably a judgment call.”

Because there have been a number of high-profile school shootings across the country over the past decade, Stellar said attitudes have changed.

“Times are different now …” Stellar said. “People are a little more sensitive to situations like this than they were 10, 15 or 20 years ago, and with good reason.”

Smithson thinks the teacher overreacted to her son’s drawing.

“They said that he was threatening a staff member,” she said. “They never asked ‘Why did you do this?’ They told a 10-year-old that, without his mother present.”

She is incensed that the police came to the school to question her son.

“Now he’s scared,” she added. “It’s bizarre.”

This incident “could affect him for the rest of his life,” the mother said.

“Yeah, she has the right to press charges, but what was she thinking?” Smithson questioned.

On Monday, the school conducted a safety evaluation on Cullen, even though he was already back in school Friday after serving his one-day suspension, according to the mother.

Stellar said he hopes the boy has learned something from this episode.

“The goal ought to be for the youngster to learn a lesson, that what he did was inappropriate and that he shouldn’t do it again,” Stellar said.