TRENTON, Ohio – Ohio middle schooler Zachary Bowlin learned a valuable lesson about privacy last week after he “liked” a picture of an airsoft gun on Instagram.
“I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” Bowlin told Fox 19.
The seventh-grader “liked” a picture of an airsoft gun on Instagram last Thursday that contained the caption “Ready.” Bowlin said he plays with airsoft guns with his friends, and didn’t think much of clicking on the post.
When he returned to Edgewood Middle School the next day, it was obvious officials had been tracking his online activities.
“I liked it, scrolling down Instagram at night about 7, 8 o’clock, I liked it,” Bowlin said. “The next morning they called me down (to the office) patted me down and checked for weapons and told me I was getting expelled or suspended or whatever.”
Bowlin was also served with a 10-day suspension for “liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.”
The student’s father, Marty Bowlin, was not happy.
“I was livid, I mean, I’m sitting here thinking ‘you just suspended him for 10 days for liking a picture of a gun on a social media site,’” he said. “He never shared, he never commented, he never made a threatening post … anything on the site. Just liked it.”
Englewood schools superintendent Russ Fussnecker wrote in a statement to the Journal-News that social media posts are serious business and grounds for suspension.
“I assure you that any social media threat will be taken serious including those who ‘like’ the post when it potentially endangers the health and safety of students or adversely affects the educational process,” he wrote.
Fussnecker alleges the district policy allows for “zero tolerance” with social media “likes.”
“Concerning the recent social media posting of a gun with the caption ‘Ready,’ and the liking of this post by another student, the policy at Edgewood City Schools reads as follows: The (school) board has a ‘zero tolerance’ of violent, disruptive, harassing, intimidating, bullying, or any other inappropriate behavior by its students,” he wrote.
“Furthermore, the policy states: Students are also subject to discipline outlined in the Student Code of Conduct that occurs off school property when the misbehavior adversely affects the educational process.”
The superintendent didn’t bother to elaborate on how, exactly, Bowlin’s “like” violated the policy, or about the social media tracking system the school district deploys against students.
School officials emailed a statement to parents about the social media “like” on Friday.
“Yesterday evening school officials were made aware to an alleged threat of a student bringing a gun to school. We act on any potential threat to student safety swiftly and with the utmost importance,” the statement read. “This morning, the alleged threat was addressed and we can assure you that all students at Edgewood Middle School are safe and school will continue as normal.”
The Bowlin’s later confirmed to Fox 19 that the school lifted the student’s suspension, and the teen no longer faces school discipline, though it’s unclear what convinced officials to reverse course.