Image courtesy Rutherford Institute

Image courtesy Rutherford Institute

School officials in North Carolina have defused an imminent threat to public safety posed by a student’s doodles on a piece of paper.

And they’re getting castigated for it.

The latest case has been brought up by the Rutherford Institute, which wrote a letter to Eric Bracy, superintendent of Sampson County Schools in Clinton, North Carolina, after a middle school student was handed a two-day suspension for his drawings.

The scrawls included a magician, a medieval warrior, a hunter with a rifle, which was pointed at the edge of the page, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

“None of the stick figures were depicted performing violent acts or even aiming weapons at anyone,” said the letter to the district from Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead. “Despite the fact that the picture harmed no one, threatened to harm no one, and had no discernible impact on school safety, the student was suspended for two days.”

Whitehead said there are “hundreds of cases like this around the nation involving young people who are being suspended, expelled, and even arrested under school policies that criminalize childish behavior and punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor the so-called infraction may be.”

“We all want to keep the schools safe, but it is far better to see something credible done about actual threats, rather than this ongoing, senseless targeting of childish behavior that poses no threat, causes no disruption and is a creative and healthy part of childhood.”

His organization wants the district to rescind the suspension.

In its defense of the 13-year-old from Roseboro-Salemburg Middle School, Rutherford contends the punishment infringes on the student’s First Amendment right of expression, is excessive and contrary to district policies.

The institute points out “the drawings were not seen by any other student, did not cause any disruption of the school, did not threaten anyone, and had no impact on the safety of anyone.”

The student made the drawings because he had finished his assignments and was waiting for the rest of the class to finish.

“When the classroom teacher saw the drawings, they were confiscated and the student was taken to the principal’s office. Once there, the student, who had not been subject to discipline previously, was suspended for two days. School officials did not warn the student or consult with the student’s parents before imposing the suspension,” the institute said.

But while the school’s policies allow for a suspension on a first offense for infractions such as fighting, threats and possessing dangerous objects, “there is simply no evidence suggesting that a drawing of individually posed stick figures with swords and a gun with no other context could rise to the same level of severity as threats of violence or actual violence against others.”

The institute, which provides free representation to people whose civil rights are threatened or infringed, told the district rescinding the suspension would send a message against the use of “this type of excessively punitive discipline.”

Those tactics make schools “places of oppression,” it said.

The letter said the district hasn’t explained its actions “other than the suggestion that the punishment was within the discretion of the school.”

“But the fact that school officials have the power to impose severe discipline on students is no basis for doing so capriciously and unnecessarily,” the letter said.

“There is simply no evidence suggesting that a drawing of individually posed stick figures with swords and a gun with no other context could rise to the same level of severity as threats of violence or actual violence.”

Whitehead’s letter continued: “The Rutherford Institute has followed, weighed in on, and litigated thousands of similar case involving similarly harsh school disciplinary policies that eschew careful reasoning in favor of rash decision-making that results in victimizing students. This minor even involving personal drawings that never impacted other students resulted in one of the harshest penalties a school can give out.”

By the way, the letter pointed out, “the suspension at issue here is contrary to the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression.”

“Only when that expression causes a disruption of the school or violates the right of other students may a student be punished for speech and expression in the school.”

District officials declined to comment.


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