A first-year principal in Mesa, Ariz., has been thrown into the spotlight for employing a controversial -- yet apparently effective -- method of student discipline.
When two Westwood High School students got in a fist fight during class this week, Principal Tim Richards gave the teens an choice: suspension or public humiliation -- by sitting next to each other holding hands in the school courtyard.
The students chose the latter, hanging their heads as peers watched and taunted them from all sides. Westwood students found the stunt funny.
"Kids were laughing at them and calling them names asking, 'Are you gay?'" student Brittney Smyers told ABC 15.
Photos of the freshman and sophomore hand-in-hand gained attention online, drawing praise from some who called the punishment effective. Charles Crockett, 14, one of the boys involved in the tussle, admitted to KPHO that he won't fight again. And while the punishment only lasted an hour, Charles says he skipped school the next day because the teasing became unbearable.
But critics say that the punishment encourages bullying, allowing students to publicly taunt the teens. Others have suggested that it sends a negative message about gay students by asserting that two males holding hands is an embarrassent.
KPHO reports that a sign near the school reads "Westwood neighborhood supports Principal Richard," but the district isn't standing behind the principal's move. District officials have released a statement, which reads in part:
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. A disciplinary move at a Michigan school similarly attracted criticism earlier this month. McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School Principal Antoinette Pearson decided to stop serving lunch after a food fight broke out among 175 students in the cafeteria.
The punishment was quickly rescinded for violating state lunch program regulations.