There is another moronic application of the “zero tolerance” policy of public schools out of Ohio at the Edgewood Middle School. Administrators informed the parents of Zachary Bowlin that he was facing suspension because he merely “liked” a picture of an airsoft gun on Instagram. While the school withdrew the suspension after public outcry, there is (again) no indication that anyone will be disciplined for this abusive treatment of a middle schooler.
We have previously followed the suspensions and discipline of students under zero tolerance policies that are used by teachers to justify zero judgment or responsibility. I have long criticized zero tolerance policies that have led to suspensions and arrests of children (here and here and here and here). Here is a prior column on the subject (and here).Children have been suspended or expelled for drawing stick figures or wearing military hats or bringing Legos shaped like guns or playing with a stick gun or even having Danish in the shape of a gun or using menacing Level 2 finger guns. Despite the public outcry over the completely irrational and abusive application of zero tolerance rules, administrators and teachers continue to apply them blindly. If you do not have to exercise judgment, you can never be blamed for any failure. Conversely, even when the public outcry results in a reversals, teachers and administrators never seem punished with the same vigor for showing no judgment or logic in punishing a child.
In this case, Zach liked the picture around 8 pm with a caption saying “ready” and by the next morning he was called to the office. He told media that they “patted me down and checked me for weapons.” The school sent out an email to all families stating:
“Yesterday evening school officials were made aware to an alleged threat of a student bringing a gun to school. We act on any potential threat to student safety swiftly and with the utmost importance. This morning, the alleged threat was addressed and we can assure you that all students at Edgewood Middle School are safe and school will continue as normal. Thank you”
“Concerning the recent social media posting of a gun with the caption “Ready”, and the liking of this post by another student, the policy at Edgewood City Schools reads as follows:
The Board has a “zero tolerance” of violent, disruptive, harassing, intimidating, bullying, or any other inappropriate behavior by its students.
Furthermore, the policy states:
Students are also subject to discipline as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct that occurs off school property when the misbehavior adversely affects the educational process.
As the Superintendent of the Edgewood City Schools, I assure you that any social media threat will be taken serious including those who “like” the post when it potentially endangers the health and safety of students or adversely affects the educational process.”
That does not address the lunacy of threatening suspension over a kid liking an airsoft gun. We recently discussed four students in California for “liking” images on Instagram. 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. 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 a student 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. Even cheerleaders are expected to conform their free speech to accept positions or risk removal from their teams.
What is clear is that administrators face no repercussions for blindly applying zero tolerance rules even though these actions often abuse young children. There is also no discussion of the expanding scope of monitoring and disciplining of students for speech in their private lives. It is a dangerous combination of expanding powers and little accountability for applying zero tolerance rules.