An Arizona school district has condemned the in-school discipline at one of its high schools after two boys were forced to hold hands in front of their classmates as a punishment for fighting.
Earlier this week, the two students at Westwood High School in Mesa, Ariz., who have not been named, were faced with the prospect of either suspension from school, or sitting in chairs in the high school’s courtyard and holding hands for 15 minutes during a lunch period. They opted for the latter.
“Kids were laughing at them and calling them names, asking, ‘Are you gay?’” student Brittney Smyers told ABC affiliate KNXV.
Teens at the high school inevitably posted photos of the two, who spent the time shielding their faces with their heads in their hands, to social media sites.
On the Facebook posting, users commented that the public punishment is not appropriate, as it positions the teens as targets for taunting and name-calling. Others suggested the punishment was anti-gay, as it implies two males holding hands is embarrassing.
Helen Hollands, director of communication and marketing for Mesa Public Schools, told ABCNews.com that the school’s principal, Tim Richard, who is in his first year at Westwood, had the idea.
“He’s done some great things there,” she said. “He’s focused highly on maintaining a standard where [ideally] no students are failing a class.”
Calls placed to Richard by ABC News were not returned.
Once the school district got wind of Richard’s unique punishment, it issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone what the school did.
“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 statement said.
“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.”
Hollands said that the district is aware that many perceived the discipline as bullying and biased.
“The district is looking at how the actions have been perceived,” she said. “That’s a very important piece to know.”