In recent years, schools have placed a greater emphasis on safety and security. Given the occurrence of school shootings, bomb threats, and other acts of violence, their need to protect students has grown more difficult. Strengthened protocols and heightened security have been an obvious result, as to ensure students cannot be harmed easily and unauthorized individuals cannot simply enter an education facility.
While these developments occur, some schools are taking safety and security to extraordinary levels. Instead of protecting the building, their students and administrators, and ensuring a safe environment, they’re seeking to sanitize the thoughts of their students.
Recently, a Middle School student was suspended for his activity on Instagram.
Now in terms of credible threats, law enforcement has a responsibility to investigate to ensure that any risk can be properly dealt with. If someone threatens to bring a gun to a school and shoot up the student body, there is a responsibility to respond. If an individual threatens harm against an educator, administrator, student or any other individual, there is a responsibility to respond.
But what really qualifies as a credible threat? Edgewood Middle School in Trenton, Ohio believes that simply liking a picture does.
The student had liked a picture on Instagram one evening. Zachary Bowlin told Fox 19 News that he had been scrolling through Instagram one evening and the picture of a gun appeared in his feed. At that point, he liked the picture. The school took issue with this because the gun picture was captioned with the word “ready.”
The problem here is the gun wasn’t even real, it was an Airsoft Gun.
Superintendent Russ Fussnecker that they have “a ‘zero tolerance’ of violent, disruptive, harassing, intimidating, bullying, or any other inappropriate behavior by its students.”
But again, what constitutes a credible threat? Superintendent Fussnecker implies “violent, disruptive, harassing, intimidating, bullying or any other inappropriate behavior” meets the threshold. School policy further states that the Student Code applies to outside behavior that affects the education process.
But what about liking a picture of a fake gun on Instagram is threatening? It is not violent or disruptive, it didn’t harass or intimidate anyone, it didn’t bully, and was hardly inappropriate.
Schools find a difficult balance in the modern era of protecting their students and staff, while creating an environment of freedom and growth. Social media can be a breeding ground for violence and discontent, but schools should be careful not to cross the line.
If there was a credible threat, undoubtedly, law enforcement would have acted. Bowlin would have been taken into custody and charges would have been filed. But this has not occurred because liking a social media post of an Airsoft Gun is obviously not a crime or a threat. So why did the school system act in this manner?
How can Superintendent Russ Fussnecker and the administrators at Edgewood Middle School believe this to be the right course of action? They exist to educate students and help their transition to adulthood, not to be the thought police targeting students with absurd claims.