Seventh grader, Zachary Bowlin, was handed a 10-day suspension from Edgewood Middle School in Trenton, Ohio for “liking” a photo on Instagram. The photo was of a gun, and that is the reason he was given the suspension. Bowlin liked the photo while at home, after school hours. He gave his parents the suspension notice and the reason written down by the Assistant Principal was, “The reason for the intended suspension is as follows: Liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.”Below is the statement given to FOX19 NOW by Superintendent Russ Fussnecker:
“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: 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.”
Was there danger?This social media interaction doesn't come close to “potentially endangering the health and safety of students” and it is not “violent, disruptive, harassing, intimidating, bullying or inappropriate." Not by a long shot. Upon further investigation, the “gun” in the photo is an air soft gun, commonly referred to as a BB-gun, or pellet gun. Zachary and his friends like to play with them and might explain why his friend posted the picture and Zachary liked it. If you get hit with one of those on bare skin it will sting and leave a welt but it hardly raises to the level a “social media threat” or “violent” behavior.How was this picture found? Was it reported to the school district by someone out to get Zachary and cause some problems for him? According to researchers at Boston University, 19.6% of the people in Ohio own a gun, which puts them on the low end nationally. So, maybe it was an honest mistake by a nervous parent that didn’t know any better.If Superintendent Fussnecker was so concerned about the safety of his students, and this was a credible threat of violence, why was Zachary not arrested? Online threats of violence and physical harm are illegal. He was not arrested because that’s not what this was. We can only hope a rational person wouldn't equate that photo to a would-be school shooting.Zero common senseZero tolerance policies in schools offer administrators freedom from having to use mindful judgement or common sense when adjudicating such matters. They see a gun and the zero tolerance dragnet sweeps up any and all involved and allows those making the decision to hide behind the policy. While we can see how zero tolerance policies could be helpful, common sense needs to overrule nonsense.Events like this instill fear in kids by making them think twice about liking, looking at, participating in a forum or doing anything even remotely close to a gun for fear they might get suspended or expelled from school. This case highlights the need for more engagement from the decision makers- at every level.Ultimately Zachary’s suspension was lifted due to the publicity, and hopefully the absurdity, of it.