The Perils of the ‘like’ Button

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 — A 7th-grade student at Edgewood Middle School in Trenton, Ohio, has been suspended for ten days due to “potential school violence.” Now, in this day and age, you might think that it’s important for school officials to remain on top of things and do whatever they can to protect their students. But the suspension was a result of the student, Zachary Bowlin, liking a picture on Instagram.

The picture was of an airsoft gun and was captioned “Ready.” The student, who was not in school at the time, simply “liked” the picture while scrolling through a popular social media site. A picture of an airsoft gun. The next morning, he was called down to the office where he was patted down and checked for weapons. Then he was sent home with a 10-day suspension. The suspension notice read, “The reason for the intended suspension is as follows: Liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.”

Nevermind that liking a photo of a gun does nothing to indicate potential school violence. Nevermind that the student didn’t spread the photo or comment on it all, let alone in a threatening manner. Nevermind that the gun in the photo was not even a gun at all. Nevermind the “zero tolerance policy” nonsense that has been taken way too far. The school believed it was doing the right thing by suspending a student for liking a photo on his social media feed while he wasn’t in school.

Here is part of the statement the school board issued regarding the incident: “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.”

The school is monitoring the social network activity of students while they’re not in school and disciplining them for it if they feel their “zero tolerance” policies are somehow violated.

Obviously, no one’s health or safety was endangered by an airsoft gun, and no harassment or bullying occurred by someone liking a photo. Despite trying to stick to their guns, Edgewood City Schools Superintendent Russ Fussnecker dropped the suspension after the resulting outcry.

Do parents want their kids to risk suspension for liking a photo on Instagram? Not any more than school officials want to be taken to task for their own harmless activity on Facebook or Twitter.

Social media is the online equivalent of actual socialization. If the airsoft gun owner had shown Zachary Bowlin the airsoft gun in person one evening, and Zachary Bowlin had replied, “Cool,” would that have violated the school’s “zero tolerance” policy on firearms or bullying or disruption?

Education is important, and it’s important that students have a safe environment to learn effectively. It’s important that parents be able to trust the school to both educate their children and keep them safe. Suspending students for liking unthreatening photos on Instagram does nothing for either of these important needs.

At least it wasn’t a Pop-Tart bitten in the shape of gun.

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