Third Graders Plot to Kill Teacher Uncovered: What Next?

Posted April 2, 2008 by

A group of third-graders—kids ages 8-10—were caught plotting to attack and kill their elementary school teacher. They even had assigned roles—one child was going to blacken the windows of the classroom, and another was going to clean up afterward. The nine boys and girls in the learning disabilities class (kids in the class have ADHD, ADD and developmental delays) were organized enough to bring knives, a paperweight, handcuffs and duct tape. The plan was to knock her unconscious with the paperweight and then stab her. The reason why they were going to attack her? She’d scolded a girl for standing on a chair in the classroom. The teacher of the class, Miss Belle Carter, said that they were “good kids” and couldn’t believe they were planning to attack her.

It’s really sad, isn’t it? Here we have kids in the third grade who have already developed a gang mentality. There are many, many comments that could be made on this. But I want to be clear about one thing: this type of anti-social behavior and aggression doesn’t disappear on its own. These kids will have to be dealt with very sternly. To be sure, 3rd graders don’t have the same level of brain development as pre-adolescents and teenagers. So all learning experiences and consequences have to be addressed to their learning capacity.

People should be very careful about allowing these kids to escape responsibility for their behavior because of some mental health diagnosis. I want to note a few things here: the first is that studies show that there are many many people in prison with learning disabilities and mental health issues. There are also many many people not in prison with learning disabilities and mental health issues. What’s the difference? I believe it’s because the people in prison had excuses made for them, were blaming others and were not held accountable for their actions. In my experience, in many cases, kids diagnosed with ADHD, ADD, or conduct disorder seem predisposed to antisocial and even criminal activities. What these kids did was criminal and could have been very harmful. These kids responded to limits with aggression.

Many kids learn to comply with authority. Others don’t learn that for whatever reason and develop a pattern of defying authority which escalates throughout the course of their childhood. They have to be held sternly accountable for their behavior, as well as being held responsibly to learn alternative ways of dealing with authority and their own emotions. Any talk of family background in mental health diagnoses is less relevant than many people imagine it to be.

No matter what the background or the diagnosis, these kids had a plan to knife a teacher. Their parents didn’t come up with that plan. The diagnosis doesn’t come up with the plan. They came up with the plan. And they better be held accountable. If there are family problems or other issues, of course they need to be addressed, but that is secondary issue to the primary focus that these kids tried to knife a teacher.

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  1. Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor (Edit) Report

    Dear “Cant take iT!!”

    It sounds like you might be describing a situation where your son is using anger to manipulate you. In this article, James Lehman, author of the Total Transformation Program calls this behavior “Anger with an Angle.” “Anger with an Angle”: Is Your Child Using Anger to Control You?

    We all get angry. Feeling anger is not the issue. How we manage our anger is. Being verbally abusive to someone is never acceptable. When your son is verbally abusive to you, James suggests saying, “It’s not okay to speak to me that way. I don’t like it.” At that point, don’t continue the conversation with him but walk away and let the anger have a chance to subside. With regard to waking up for school, consider letting your son experience the natural consequence if he’s late. Tell him you are no longer going to assist him in getting up in the morning, that from now on it’s his responsibility. Frequently when we recommend natural consequences, parents have real concerns about this technique. I’d like to suggest another article for you where James discusses the lessons that can be learned through failure: Why You Should Let Your Child Fail The Benefits of Natural Consequences. Remember you can call the trained specialists on the Support Line for more ideas on how to use the techniques from the Total Transformation Program in your home.

    Reply
  2. Mom in Distress (Edit) Report

    Reading this article is a confirmation of my worst fears. My son is only 7 years old but he has a very violent streak in him. I believe that many of our prisons are full due to poor parenting or as Dr. Lehman says ineffective parenting. We must not fool ourselves people. If we expose our children to violence through the games they play, the music they listen to and the movies they watch and add to that our own venting out in the family by arguing be it with other siblings or our spouse then we have to accept the influence this will have on them. Many times we say oh no I have been a model parent and I don’t know why my child is the way he is. To those of you who do this I beg you to buy a mirror and start looking into it and see your true reflection, we all kid ourselves at some point, I was in denial for a long time but not anymore. I need to change so that I can better equip my kids with the social skills they need to be successful not only in school but in every aspect of life including how they relate to others. Prejudice, violence and low self esteem are all cultivated in our homes, lets face it every tree-bearing fruit has roots and so our foundation is the structure upon which everything else is built. I don’t mind being told I am the problem, in order to solve anything each element must be identified and I accept – I need to change – or else my children will be somebody’s misfortune. Accountability is the opposite of justification and for too long I was justifying thinking that I was correct for doing so. I am no longer my childrens’ defense attorney, I have chosen to be their coach instead and teach them how to abide by the law which is a good thing for without limits and boundaries – chaos would undermine all of our lives…

    Reply
  3. Kris says (Edit) Report

    Ok, here’s the thing. It’s real easy for some folks with There are others of us who are good parents (had children late, read all the books, was perfectly prepared and followed through) and were very surprised when they were blessed with a naturally spirited child who bucked every rule he’s given and shows blatant disrespect for authority even when he’s been taught otherwise and his parents are very respectful models. So, before sitting in judgement of other parents and automatically thinking parents are the problem, take the time to be thankful for the blessing you’ve been given. Don’t automatically judge a parent by their child’s behavior. Chances are, they could use your support much more than your cricism. Also, don’t get too confident in your own blessings, things can change at any given time. By the way, maybe this teacher was just doing her job. It’s my opinion that these children should definitely be held accountable for their actions. Also, we as a society should be very careful about grouping behavior disordered children together in one classroom. As we’ve seen in this case, its a recipe for disaster.

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  4. Linda (Edit) Report

    Hi I am the mother of eight children and each one is different. First, Children learned from their parents. What you do around them is what they put out. Some kids need tough love and some need talking or lecture. I get compliments by teachers, and other parents on the behavior my childeren have. I have honors students in the house hold and I don’t take the t.v. away or stop them from listening to music of any kind. I just give them choices and if they choose a wrong choice there are consequences. As for teacher, I think every teacher should substitute before entering into a classroom so they will be able to work with different type of students and then they will no for sure if the job is right for them. You must love to teach and have plenty of patience right alone with discipline.

    Reply
  5. Millie (Edit) Report

    When you talk about holding a child or children
    accountable for these types of criminal acts, what are
    we talking about here? What do we do as parents to
    hold these children accountable specifically?? No TV
    for 2 weeks, no going outside, I am confused as to how
    do you get thru to a child who is thinking this way?

    Reply
  6. Crystal Zepeda (Edit) Report

    This article really scares me. The thought of such young children plotting such a horrendous crime. I have an 8 year old son and couldn’t even begin to imagine him plotting let alone even to begin to know how to plot something like this. I’ve struggled for years trying to figure out what the problem is with my son. Why doesn’t he have the motivation for school? Why does he have an extreme lack of inattentiveness? Does he have ADD or simply behavioral problems? Although I still want to know, this article helps me realize that no matter what he has, there’s no excuse. I really believe that he has the ability to cooperate and complete tasks, however despite his ‘wondering’ mind, there’s no excuse for his behavior. I will infact have him evaluated for ADD, however I have been careful not to let him know that I think he may have it. I do not want him to have an ‘excuse’ not to try. The fact that these kids showed the mental capacity and ‘blueprint’ like steps to carry out the process shows their extreme intelligence. There is no excuse. I agree that he should be held accountable but he question is: What consequences will accomplish this?

    Reply
  7. Doris (Edit) Report

    James Lehman MSW, I had seen you on TV this morning. I called the 800 number. I Just wanted to say thank you for writing the book and helping. My sister had real emotional problems which disrupted the whole family. My mother thought if anything was said or done she would commit suicide. It was a real nightmare in our house. Thank you for saying what I always thought. A parent can make a real difference in a childs life. A parent can run their home. Thank you for your work and your efferts to get the word out their. God bless you!

    Reply
  8. Brandi (Edit) Report

    I feel that the children involved in this incident are completely responsible for their choices regardless of what the teacher may have done. If we say that it is okay for students to retaliate when a teacher is not fair or mean, then we are condoning their actions. A teacher is responsible for her students safety and what goes on in the classroom. However, she is NOT responsible for the CHOICES that each student makes. They must take responsibility for that! And anyone who says different is just helping the students kill the teacher. I also am a teacher and know first hand how rough some of these kids can be….and to say that you must look at the teacher when things aren’t going right in a classroom is bunk! Why should I be fired because a student has made a choice that I am not in control of? The real issue is the lack of consequences for these kids when they make choices that are unacceptable! We MUST hold these kids accountable for their behavior. Just because someone does it to you does not mean you can do it to them….wrong is wrong no matter what the “excuse”.

    Reply
  9. Mark J Doss (Edit) Report

    What I sy will no doubt be dismissed by most, from what I see in this society. That is, people love to have a diagnosis (an excuse for their behaviour and attitudes). I have suffered many consequences for my own choices, and just like me, it seems that anyone can straighten out their conduct when they believe it will benefit them. As for young people – even little children learning to agree together to plot vicious activities – what do you talk about at home!? Do you tell your kids to show everybody who’s “boss”? Do you insist on your “right” to watch violent and irresponsible TV and movies (because it’s nobodys’ business but your own?). Is your music about breaking societal rules and morals? That’s what I see. But when the cops show up, it’s never your fault, or your kids’ fault – it’s the bad group they got in with. The 60s’ and beyond taught us to decide our own morals, and we have taught our kids to “question authority”. And how is a teacher supposed to get respectful cooperation from kids who have been taught that their will be no pain involved in discipline. (and you know I’m not talking about maiming your kids’ little psyche) When somebody elses’ kid does some malicious thing to US we sure are vocal about the kid being responsible for their actions! – just not when it’s our OWN kid! But for many, it’s just easier to take them to a psychologist who will excuse their behaviour as being something they have no fault in or control over! My teachers in the 60s cured ADHD by the Hack-paddle – it had miraculous healing powers!

    Reply
  10. Pam Ryan (Edit) Report

    Yes, it’s true that the classroom and home environments- how we talk and interact with each other is crucial in setting an example of respect, caring and acceptance of each other. If children are mistreated, abused and neglected they will let us know by their behaviors. Were the children in this classroom treated disrespectfully? We don’t know for sure. Was the teacher carrying out her responsibility of disciplining her students? It seems so. Some children don’t like to be disciplined, and by that I mean guided to act in a respectful manner. If this was the case, those children have learned that teachers and others in authority are not worthy of respect. I wonder where they learn that? We need to take a hard look at how we guide children through life and how we don’t do them justice by making excuses for their poor choices.

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth Tregillus (Edit) Report

    I agree that the youth need to be held accountable, but as a teacher, I also believe in problem solving together. The climate of a classroom is the responsibility of the teacher, and too few teachers get adequate training to perform well in classroom management–and too few get fired when they cannot. Teachers are not in control of children, only of themselves, so that is who they need to look at when things go wrong. I also agree that the child is not in control of the teacher, and is equally accountable to figure out how to manage their temper when they get a “bad” teacher (or later, boss), which they inevitably will. I do not feel that the children alone are responsible, however, and have not seen any article about this examine that possibility. What evoked that many children to participate?

    Reply
  12. Penny Comes (Edit) Report

    Thank you so much for the article. My son is 8 and in the 3rd grade, and when I read this story for the first time, I felt physically sick. My son is not physically violent YET, but he is very frustrated with school and his teacher, and we are just about to start counseling for anger issues, as well as oppositional defiance disorder. It was really hard knowing that he could have been the mastermind behind something like this if he was truly angry. The children do need to be held accountable, and if they are not already doing it, the parents need to be VERY involved in help and counseling for not only the children themselves, but in learning to deal with those children as responsible parents. Thanks again for your newsletter. I have gained quite a lot of valuable information from it!

    Reply
  13. Susan Francioli (Edit) Report

    I just want to Thank you for the reminder that it is so much more important to hold them (ADHD, ADD) or conduct disorder, ACCOUNTABLE. I have learned the hard way from experience and I am here to say that its tough, and they do not need to be humiliated, but they also do need to be held accountable. Thank you for reminding us!

    Reply

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