Two Arizona high school students who were caught fighting faced a controversial punishment concocted by their principal: Either endure a suspension, or sit in the school courtyard holding hands while other students shout and throw homophobic slurs at you.
The message here seems to be that there’s nothing more horrific than being perceived as gay.
Student Brittney Smyers told ABC 15, "Kids were laughing at them and calling them names, asking, 'Are you gay?' ”
Pictures of the boys holding hands surfaced online with some singing the principal’s praises, while others denounced his tactics as shortsighted and discriminatory.
Tim Richard is Westwood High School’s first-year principal, described by colleagues as a “dynamo” who was brought in to reinvigorate the school’s reputation, starting with its academic standing.
Helen Hollands, director of communication and marketing for Mesa Public Schools, told ABCNews she’s behind Richard. “He’s done some great things there. He’s focused highly on maintaining a standard where [ideally] no students are failing a class.”
But not everyone agrees. A new petition went up on SignOn.org insisting on Richard’s dismissal for encouraging and legitimizing bullying in schools. “…this particular incident sends a clear message to gay students. It equates being gay or perceived as gay to punishment, and ranks it along side being thrown out of school. The knock-on effect of this sanctioned bullying will only serve to exacerbate the social ostracism that too many gay and lesbian students still experience in public schools.”
Richard should expect some sort of disciplinary action himself. The school district released its own statement condemning his choice of tactics:
“Mesa Public Schools is dedicated to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment. The district has guidelines for appropriate student discipline and our site administrators have the authority to impose consequences within our policies and regulations.”
“The district does not condone the choice of in-school discipline given these students, regardless of their acceptance or willingness to participate. District leadership will address this matter with the school principal and review district protocol regarding student discipline with all administrators.”
Richard’s misguided attempt at holding these two kids accountable for their actions is no doubt going to be remembered most by his gay students, who’ve just learned their principal thinks public jeering is an acceptable response to the sight of two boys holding hands. Rates of suicide are up to four times higher in LGBT youth than they are in heterosexual kids, and institutionalized homophobia like what was demonstrated at Westwood High School plays a large role.
Public humiliation is painful for adults, but for children, it's often traumatizing. Yes, those two boys might think twice before fighting again, but at what cost? And how will the principal protect his students from bullying each other now that he’s just condoned it?
What do you think of punishments that involve public humiliation for students? Let us know in the Comments.
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com