MESA, Ariz. — Two Arizona high school students were forced to hold hands in front of their classmates as punishment this week for fighting.
Critics are calling the discipline a form of bullying because it subjected the students to taunting and name-calling, and evoked anti-gay sentiments.
Earlier this week, the two students at Westwood High School in Mesa, Ariz., who have not been named, were given 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, reported KNXV-TV.
But the school district said it does not condone the “unique punishment” handed down by principal Tim Richard, and is aware that many perceived the discipline as bullying and biased, according to Helen Hollands, Director of Communication for Mesa Public Schools.
“Kids were laughing at them and calling them names asking, ‘Are you gay?'” said student Brittney Smyers, who saw the punishment play out at the school.
A few others went as far as to say it sent a negative message to gay students because it portrayed hand-holding by two males to be embarrassing.
“The district has guidelines for appropriate student discipline and our site administrators have the authority to impose consequences within our policies and regulations,” according to a statement released by the school district.
“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,” the statement said.
A photo of the students hiding their faces as they clutched hands was posted to Facebook, where several comments criticized the punishment saying it was inappropriate.
“The district is looking at how the actions have been perceived,” Hollands said. “That’s a very important piece to know.”
“I would say this will not be happening again,” added Hollands.