Does Different Mean Deadly? More Fallout from School Shooting

May 10, 1999 12:00 am

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PONTIAC, MI — The zero-tolerance policy on threats of violence that many schools are adopting in the wake of the Colorado shootings has civil liberties groups concerned that students who look or act different may be unfairly singled out.

In a May 10 news article, TIME magazine reported that the American Civil Liberties Union “has been deluged with complaints from parents whose children were suspended for wearing black or making provocative statements on their web page.”

“There is a danger that schools are interpreting being different as being dangerous,” ACLU staff attorney Ann Beeson told TIME. “Any nonconformist kid fits some sort of profile of a killer.”

In a May 6 interview with the Associated Press, Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan echoed Beeson’s sentiments. “I know there have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions where students are suspended for comments that they’ve made that perhaps didn’t constitute threats,” he said.

Last week, for example, a high school student in Ferndale, MI was suspended for talking about making firecrackers from gunpowder, while another student at Avondale High School was suspended for saying he wished someone would bomb the building so school would be closed, AP reported.

“Any kind of threat, or even an insinuation of a threat is going to have to be dealt with harshly,” Tim McAvoy, spokesman for Avondale schools, told AP.

In Ohio, the ACLU has come to the defense of a group of students who were suspended from Field High School in Brimfield after contributing to a gothic-themed web site.

“Students have a right to free expression,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, in a news release issued by the affiliate. “In cases such as this, where the material in question was prepared and distributed off campus, and is neither obscene nor directly threatening, school officials simply cannot punish students for being involved with a web site the officials dislike.”

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