Teenagers In Massachusetts Pose With Airsoft Guns in Pre-Dance Photo . . . School Officials Respond With Indefinite Suspensions Of Both Teens

10409231_707381359356504_6530552318647936744_n-640x853There is another controversy raising the increasing assertion of authority of school officials over pictures and statements made by students outside of school. In Massachusetts, Jamie Pereira was suspended from school after a photo of her and her boyfriend, Tito Velez, both 16, holding Airsoft rifles was posted on Facebook. A caption beneath the photograph read: “Homecoming 2014.” The picture looks like a new American Gothic for some and a threat to others. However, the controversy again raises the limits and discretion of school officials in monitoring speech outside of school for students and teachers alike. There was good reason to be concerned but the punishment was due to the disruption caused rather than an actual threat from the picture.

The admitted mistake of the teenage couple was to put “Homecoming” at the bottom of the picture. School officials were legitimately concerned but this was not a preventative step but a disciplinary action. There is no suggestion of an actual threat intended by the picture. I fail to see why such problems cannot be addressed with a reprimand and calling in the parents. Both students have been suspended for an unknown length of time.

Superintendent Richard Gross insists that punishment is appropriate and will reflect the disruption caused when the picture was circulated by other students. Notably, the picture was posted hours after a Washington state teen shot five fellow students inside his high school before taking his own life. However, Gross insisted that “This is about the tumult created by their online activity.”

The teens were apparently just trying to come up with something different for their pre-dance photos. The photo was later removed.
Velez, who could not be reached for comment early Wednesday, reportedly said he and his girlfriend simply wanted to “do something unique and different” instead of taking typical pre-dance photographs.

I have previously written about the increasing monitoring and discipline of teachers for conduct in their private lives. We have seen teachers face discipline over social media pictures holding a weapon. Even a picture of a teacher holding a glass of a drink is enough to trigger discipline.

Once again, there is clearly a need for officials to act upon any threat. However, there remains a dangerous ambiguity over the scope and use of such authority. Given the ludicrous application of “zero tolerance” rules, officials commonly impose extreme punishments rather than exercise judgment (and expose themselves to the risk of criticism) over the handling of such controversies.

We have seen a steady erosion of the free speech rights of students in the last decade. The Supreme Court accelerated that trend in its Morse decision. Former JDHS Principal Deb Morse suspended Frederick in 2002 during the Olympic Torch Relay for holding up a 14-foot banner across from the high school that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” The case ultimately led to the Supreme Court which ruled in Morse v. Frederick ruling in 2007 for the Board — a decision that I strongly disagreed with and one that has encouraged over-reaching by school officials into protected areas.

For a copy of the Morse decision, click here.

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia SotomayorCivil libertarians hoped that Obama would appoint someone with a strong commitment to free speech and student rights. I was very concerned over the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor because of her role in the Donniger case where she ruled against high school student Avery Doninger who contested her punishment for posting an objectionable message on an Internet site about Lewis Mills High School. When she objected to the cancellation of a school event in vulgar terms, school officials barred her from running for Senior Class secretary. In Doninger v. Niehoff, the Second Circuit upheld the right of school officials to punish students for out-of–school speech in a major blow to both the first amendment and student rights.

This case has obviously different and more compelling facts for actions. However, this remains a picture taken outside of school with two airsoft guns. It would seem an appropriate cause for a telephone call and not some open-ended suspension in my opinion.

Source: Taunton Gazette

207 thoughts on “Teenagers In Massachusetts Pose With Airsoft Guns in Pre-Dance Photo . . . School Officials Respond With Indefinite Suspensions Of Both Teens”

  1. We live in a free country. It is nobodies right or business to pass judgement over another persons expressed freedoms. Regardless of any perceived threat. Our gun laws are wrong, unfounded and paranoid on the part of the anti gun activists. These people harmed no one, the schools or government have no authority granted them by our law of the land ( Constitution ) to dictate morels and ideals for the common citizen. Being forced to live by a few peoples ideals is paramount to becoming a dictatorial country! While these same public servants carry weapons or hire armed security to protect themselves, and then go speak of the evils of weapons for defense of the rest of the Nation. It’s ludicrous and hypocritical ! In essence they are saying that they are more important than normal people. Their lives and the lives of those they love are more precious than the lives of the rest of the Nation ! I for one love my family every bit as much as any politician or wealthy individual. I will protect myself and my loved ones in any manner possible.

  2. A cherry bomb in a toilet is a safe, efficient, fast, but loud, way to clear a stopped up toilet. One, not two. If you tie two cherry bombs together, light them and flush them down, the toilet may crack and fall apart. Or the drain pipe might blow open, depending on how far down the cherry bombs got when the fuse hit the cherry bombs. We used them in high school because the staff was slow and inefficient. We were helping out. Sometimes some brown stuff got blown up and out and onto the ceiling. But, what the heck. Go Comets!

    1. We had signs on the urinals in the high school that said Please flush! X (our down river rivals) needs the water. We always flushed for school spirit, sometimes twice.

  3. happypappies: In my prior life as a human, before my present incarnation as a dog, I went to a high school named McCluer, from the Class of ’67.. Not far from Riverview Gardens. Please don’t reveal to anyone what town that school is situated in. They may think that I lived in a Ghetto. The media is so good at portraying things with political correctness. And who, pray tell, is Rushie?

    1. Barkin – Rushie Limpballs you know – I live in Cape Girardeau now. Yes, It was such a Ghetto back then, everyone in music aspired to the Bundy standard as they always went to State. Your Band always went to State Your Football team always went to State. You probably tackled my Husband if you played as he graduated from Hazelwood Central in 67 in another lifetime himself. Riverview was the redneck school. But most of our parents wanted us to do better. 🙂

  4. What nonsense.

    If an actual grown-up was running the school, he or she would have simply said to the students “I’m sorry, but this lovely photo isn’t appropriate for a school event. Do you have another one that doesn’t include your guns? I’m sure you do; your families probably took quite a few photos of you. Or if you don’t, let’s step into the atrium and I’ll take one of you with my smartphone.”

    But a grown-up wasn’t running that school. Someone just smart enough to get through some university’s Ed department – the academic ghetto of all universities – was running that school.

  5. Idiots are in charge of our schools! I say it every time I see something like this. Or charging a 5-year-old for sexual harassment. This is what all that money wasted by the Department of Education has brought. In their dedication to socialism. New math is crazy. But you can buy musical videos singing the times tables, which schools have forgotten. Now they creep into our private time. My granddaughters were homeschooled. I was against it, but am I ever glad they ignored me! At 16, one is taking Chemistry at a Junior College (not offered in HS). Also taking college French. At 15, the youngest in a charter high school is getting straight A’s, so well prepared! My husband tutored kids having trouble with Algebra at middle school. Most of them couldn’t do basic math. Kids are being cheated!

Comments are closed.