An Ohio middle-school student simply wanted to honor veterans as part of an assigned school project. For his efforts, he was slapped with a three-day suspension.
Now veterans are standing up for him.
According to CBS affiliate WTOL, 13-year-old Tyler Carlin was given an art assignment and decided to create a battlefield cross, used to honor fallen soldiers. A battlefield cross is generally made up of a helmet resting on top of an upright rifle sticking out of either the ground or a pair of combat boots.
Carlin improvised his version with a plastic combat helmet, child-sized snow boots, and a NERF toy gun. He told his teacher what he was doing and got permission to bring the memorial to school.
School administrators reacted by suspending the boy for three days, according to family attorney Travis Faber, who is now representing Carlin. Faber said Carlin was punished because officials claimed “that the NERF dart toy was a firearm prohibited from school.”
The boy’s suspension was in-school, which meant he still had to show up but couldn’t do anything, WHIO reported.
"I just sat in a room all day. An administrator thought it was stupid that I got this, so she bought me a doughnut and played cards with me," Carlin told “Fox & Friends” during an interview, according to Fox News.
The incident took place March 5 at Celina Middle School, about 90 miles northwest of Columbus, Ohio. The boy’s family wants the boy’s suspension expunged from his records, an apology from the school, and some sort of gesture from the school showing that they do indeed support veterans.
"We think this is an administration that, frankly, just wasn't using common sense," Faber told “Fox & Friends.’
Asked why he wanted to make the monument in the first place, Carlin said, “This means so much to me because that [battlefield cross] was the last chance that the military, their friends, got to say goodbye to them. Also, my dad’s friend is like a grandpa to me and he showed me his war stories from Vietnam.”
When news of the boy’s punishment got out, he drew a lot of supporters.
“The community is behind me on this,” Carlin said. “They held a protest, and it is still going on today.”
Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Janice Holdheidi showed up at a school board meeting this week to express her support for Carlin, but she was told she couldn’t speak because the board was not discussing the matter publicly “to protect the right to privacy of [the] student.”
The Iraq war veteran went to Facebook instead to get her message out, saying the boy should be applauded “for standing up and doing the right thing.”
“I fought for this great country, and I fought for this young man to exercise his first amendment right,” Holdhiedi wrote. “I have buried friends and comrades and survived the horrors of War only to come home and find such a disrespectful action taken by this school system in my hometown.”
“This is so much more than a monument, this is every friend I have laid to rest who died for this country, who died for you.”
To Carlin’s parents, she said, “Thank you for raising such a courageous and respectful young man. He is the greatest his generation has to offer.”
Veterans Forever Inc. is selling T-shirts in support of Carlin and says they will give the money to pay for flags and flagpoles for veterans.
Craig Obringer of Veterans Forever said, "I just wanted this poor innocent kid to understand that his beliefs was correct that you should always stick up for a veteran and it's a sad situation that Tyler's now in trouble for trying to do the right thing for a veteran.”