A new policy at Allen Parish School District in Louisiana states that even an accusation that a student had been talking about a gun will automatically result in that student being investigated by the school board, the sheriff’s department, and the district attorney’s office.
All of this started after a student at one of the district’s schools, Oberlin High, noticed that the square root symbol looks kind of like a gun and made a related joke about it.
According to an article in local news source KATC, the student apparently made some harmless comments during a math class, and they were later distorted into something threatening by his peers on social media.
“The students were working together, and a student made a math symbol of a square root sign, which kind of looks like a pistol,” Allen Parish School District superintendent Michael Doucet said. “And he was helping a weaker student, and the student says, ‘Well, that looks like a pistol!'”
“And he just made a comment [like] ‘let’s just get to work before I shoot you with a pistol,’” he continued.
KATC noted that the gossip about the comment got out of hand, turning it into a social-media rumor that the student was plotting to shoot up the school and resulting in a police investigation. Detectives’ search of the student’s home revealed that he did not have any kind of firearm, or even immediate access to one.
“He did not commit a crime. He did not commit anything remotely criminal, nothing to remotely suggest any intent to do actual harm,” Allen Parish sheriff Doug Hebert said.
Even after the student was cleared, however, he was still banned from school while he awaited an expulsion hearing.
Now, that’s obviously messed up. An investigation already found that the student was harmless, and yet the school is still going to keep him away from his studies and continue to humiliate him for absolutely no good reason.
But it gets worse: KATC reports that, in response to this one student’s joke, the school board set a new policy where a student who is accused of even talking about guns or school shootings will be investigated by the school board, the sheriff’s department, and the district attorney’s office.
I understand that the climate has changed in response to what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. I understand that the student who committed that heinous act had exhibited warning signs, and that those signs were ignored, but this policy simply makes no sense.
For one thing, there is a huge, huge difference between exhibiting the kind of signs that the Parkland shooter exhibited — for example, straight-up, earnestly saying that he wanted to be a school shooter — and the kind of innocent behavior that this policy punishes so severely. Under these rules, a kid simply stating that he had gone shooting with his uncle would result in a district attorney’s investigation. Even worse, a single kid even accusing another kid of having talked about having gone shooting would result in a district attorney’s investigation. Although well-intentioned, it’s not hard to see how this could go very, very wrong.
We all know how vicious high-school kids can be with rumors and gossip, and a policy like this threatens to punish innocent children with serious, humiliating and education-interfering consequences for doing absolutely nothing. It’s important to take serious threats seriously, but administrators can certainly do better than a policy this stupid.