Knee-jerk. That’s how many are characterizing an Ohio school’s reaction to a 7th grader’s recent “like” on an Instagram post. When Zachary Baldwin like a photo of an airsoft gun, the school suspended him for 10 days. Their action, they claimed, was necessary as a precaution against potential violence.
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Bowlin’s like came in the evening. He was not at school. There was no mention of Edgewood Middle School, or of school violence. And the gun in question was an airsoft gun. The image was captioned simply “ready.”
Ready for what seems to be the question. Zombies? Home invasion? Pelting your friends with small bits of plastic? All of these could be inferred, but the school, showing an abundance of caution, reached the conclusion that this was a direct threat that required removing a student from classes for two weeks.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Bowlin said. “The next morning, they called me down and, like, patted me down and checked me for weapons. Then, they told me I was getting expelled or suspended or whatever.”
The school’s explanation letter explained Bowlin was guilty of “liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.”
Martin Bowlin, the boy’s father, disagreed. “I was livid. He never shared, he never commented, never made a threatening post … [he] just liked it.” He added, “My wife called and said he’d been pulled in to the office, and he was being suspended because he liked a picture on Instagram that his friend posted of a weapon, of an airsoft gun. It was 10 days suspension with the possibility of expulsion. I’m like, ‘For liking a gun? Did he make a comment or threat or anything?’ And it’s like, ‘No. He just liked a picture.’ I’m like, ‘Well, this can’t happen.’’”
And it seems like much of the country agreed.
“I mean, I figured he’d cleaned his gun and was ready, wanting to play and stuff,” Bowlin continued. “The young man that posted it and my son, and probably four or five other kids, play airsoft in our field. So I pretty much knew what it was about. So I really wasn’t concerned.”
Edgewood City Schools Superintendent, Russ Fussnecker, told reporters, “I assure you that any social media threat will be taken serious, including those who ‘like’ the post when it potentially endangers the health and safety of students or adversely affects the educational process. When you’re dealing with school districts nowadays and there are pictures of guns, regardless of the kind of gun it is, it’s a gun. And there are certain images or words, I can’t determine if that’s playful or real. And until I can get to an investigation, I have to look into it, those students have to be removed.”
When there are pictures of guns it’s a gun. It is this stunning rhetorical sophistication that has put the Edgewood City Schools in the national spotlight.
“I’m here for all students,” Fussnecker continued. “And at the end of the day, and I’ve said it time and time again, parents will forgive us for certain things. They’re not going to forgive us if their kid doesn’t come home. They’re just not. And it’s difficult to even think about it, but it happened 10 minutes up the street almost.”
“I cannot just turn my head and act as if, well, I think it may have been playful and take the chance that something happens. I can’t take a chance.”
So he acted in an abundance of caution. After many expressed their concern that this was an inappropriate action, the school lifted the suspension and allowed Bowlin back to school.