Two male students at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona chose a highly public hand-holding session instead of suspension as their punishment for fighting.
The uncommon disciplinary measure is now at the center of a controversy, reports local ABC affiliate KNXV.
The fight — apparently more of a minor melee — occurred in gym class on Wednesday, according to KPHO, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix. In one corner was 14-year-old freshman Charles Crockett. In the other corner, a sophomore named Julio.
“I told him to hit me, and he hit me, and we all started fighting,” Crockett told KPHO.
After the altercation, the high school’s principal, Tim Richard, gave the teens a choice: Hold hands in front of everybody on campus, or be suspended.
The teens chose to hold hands, and hold hands they did, for roughly an hour during lunch. The whole student body was able to behold the spectacle.
Witnesses — as well as the two participants — described the event as humiliating.
“Kids were laughing at them and calling them names asking, ‘Are you gay?’” said Brittney Smyers, a Westwood student, according to KNXV.
“It was funny,” another student, Mickey Shull, told the ABC affiliate. “I’ve been in ROTC, and it’s no different than some of the stuff you have to do there. It works.”
“They was making fun of me and everything and I just wanted to yell at them but I couldn’t,” Crockett said, according to KPHO. “I just put my head down.”
Naturally, at least one picture of the teenagers — hiding their faces as they held hands — soon showed on Facebook, KNXV reports.
Several Facebook users condemned the punishment as inappropriate, the station says. One commenter charged that the penalty promoted bullying.
Another commenter reportedly suggested that the punishment portrays homosexuality in a negative light, because the students obviously felt embarrassed to hold hands.
Both local stations report that the principal has plenty of supporters in the Mesa area. However, the local school board does not appear to be among his many champions.
According to KPHO, Mesa Public Schools 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.”