discipline or bullying?Two boys at Westwood High School in Mesa, AZ were caught fighting and sent to the Principal’s office. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, right? But how Principal Tim Richards disciplined them is out of the ordinary. The boys were given the option: be suspended or hold hands in the middle of the school campus at lunch time.

The boys choose to hold hands.

What ensued for the boys was about an hour of public humiliation. If you watch the linked news video, you can hear students laughing at them.

Several news reports stated that the boys were being taunted, “Are you gay?” The incident was so humiliating (or effective?) that one of the boys did not go to school for at least 2 days, per news reports.

Yet, many in the school community are praising Principal Richards for his work at the school as a first year principal. Students held a rally later that week to show their support.

So is this bullying? Or innovative and effective disciplining?

I would have to state that although it’s been reported that Principal Richards has made positive and effective change at his school this was not one of those moments. I would have to agree with the criticism that the public humiliation that ensued became overt gay-bashing and sent a message of intolerance to gay and questioning students. Furthermore, by sanctioning “disciplinary bullying,” it perpetuates a culture of bullying within the school community at large.

Bullying is not simply two boys getting into a fist fight, bullying comes in the form of repeated exclusion, taunting, racial/ethnic/gay slurs, and direct manipulation of a targeted person’s relationships to isolate and shame them.

Public humiliation as a means to discipline while in the short term effective I fear has long term consequences. What do you think? If your child was one of the boys would you have been comfortable with this disciplinary action? What if your child witnessed this? What if your child is gay and witnessed this?

Boys fighting photo available from Shutterstock