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Father: Son's Suspension Crummy

The parents of a sixth-grader say they are outraged over an indefinite suspension of their son after he was accused of threatening to expose a highly allergic teacher to peanut butter cookies.

At the start of the school year, Social Studies teacher Caroline Pew had made it clear: No peanuts in class, because of her allergy.

The boy's father, Loubert Gabriel, said his 12-year-old son, Jules, was suspended on April 2 after a girl in his social studies class at South Orange Middle School made the accusation.

The family was under the impression that the suspension would be for 10 days. But Gabriel said the boy still has not been allowed to return to classes pending a May 13 suspension hearing by the district.

"They mishandled this," Gabriel said.

Ingestion of even a tiny morsel of peanut can cause severe reactions in allergic children and adults. Reactions can range from throat irritation to death.

School officials say the boy waved the package of cookies in the air in class. His parents say he was just holding the package, reading the label. The girl who made the accusation does not like his son, said the boy's father.

Peter Horoschak, superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District, said principal Kirk E. Smith interviewed 14 of the boy's classmates before issuing the initial 10-day suspension, which was later extended by the Board of Education.

Nine students in the social studies class allege that Jules Gabriel stood up in the classroom when Pew stepped out, produced the cookies and declared "the teacher better not mess with him because he has a deadly weapon," the Newark Star-Ledger reported.

"He never said that to the teacher," Gabriel said. "He said he never had a dangerous weapon; he said he had something dangerous."

So far, Horoschak said, the boy has shown no remorse and refused to recognize the seriousness of his actions.

"We're very concerned about the teacher's welfare, and how the teacher was threatened by this," Horoschak said. "If he thought this was a joke, it's obviously a very poor joke."

Horoschak said he and the principal will discuss the matter with the boy and his parents on Friday. He said an agreement could be reached to allow the boy back in school before the May hearing.

Gabriel said his son was aware that his social studies teacher was allergic to peanuts. But he said the boy was unaware of any prohibition against bringing peanuts, cookies or peanut butter into the class.

Horoschak said students have been told not to bring any peanut-based products into the teacher's classroom.

The teacher was not exposed to the cookies and did not have an allergic reaction.

Making the suspension all the more outrageous, Gabriel said, his son had gotten the snack-size packet of peanut cookies in school, from a class party held by his health teacher earlier that day.