An eighth-grader was suspended from his Silver Spring, Md., private school for three weeks — and not allowed to graduate with his class — because he appeared in some Snapchats with a disabled airsoft gun.
That’s right. According to an article in Reason, the 14-year-old boy appeared in the background of a friend’s video where that friend was holding a disabled airsoft gun, and he also posed for a photo depicting the same friend holding the device to his head. That photo was shared with a mere 13 other friends — and that’s what the school is calling a “very, very serious” offense.
Honestly, give me a break. Maybe it’s just me, but personally, I consider “very, very serious” offenses to be ones that, at a minimum, have some sort of, you know, victim. Someone actually has to get hurt — a couple of boys clowning around with their phones and a disabled not-even-real weapon hardly seems like it could qualify.
Last week, the boy’s father — a nonprofit director named David Bernstein — wrote a piece in the Washington Post saying as much. Bernstein stated that his son had simply been acting like a “knucklehead,” not harming or threatening anyone, so he asked the school to reconsider the severity of the punishment.
“But did the school really need to suspend a kid who they know has never been violent and did nothing intentionally threatening for three weeks?” Bernstein asked. “The principal said my son needed time to reflect on what he had done.”
“What, I wondered, could he possibly learn in a three-week suspension that he couldn’t learn in, say, three days?” he continued. “Indeed, multiple studies show that long-term suspensions make for worse, not better behavior. Why would a school that prides itself on its progressive values resort to a punitive and counterproductive intervention?”
The school, of course, declined — believing that what the boy had done was “very serious” and that it therefore completely warranted suspension through the end of the year.
In this case, Bernstein is right, and the school is wrong. Make no mistake: Posting a photo of some kind of mock hostage situation on social media is not smart, and this boy should absolutely not have done so. The thing is, though, this was a kid — and he didn’t actually hurt anyone. It’s a situation where he needed to learn a lesson, but I really don’t think it would take three weeks for him to do so. In fact, I think that it could have been accomplished in just a single conversation.
Personally, I can’t imagine what it would have been like had social media been around when I was a kid. I was a good kid, but a kid nonetheless — which, of course, means that I did some pretty stupid stuff at times. Thankfully, the only way any of it was ever captured was on a disposable camera, where only I had control of those images. It seemed like punishments were also far less strict than they are these days; I probably would have been suspended for half of my elementary career if I were in school now.
The bottom line is, schools and school districts need to remember that kids are kids and that it’s normal for them to sometimes make mistakes. The focus should be on helping them learn from those mistakes so that they don’t repeat them in the future — not on making their lives miserable with extreme punishments, especially not for transgressions with no victims.