Ariz. Students Hold Hands as Punishment, Ignites Controversy

School officials at a high school in Arizona are the subject of criticism after they punished two male students for fighting by making them hold hands during school.

The students attend Westwood High School in Mesa and were punished for fighting each other earlier in the week. The students were given a choice of suspension from school or the option to hold each other's hand during school as an alternate punishment.

Since word of the hand holding punishment got out, there have been both negative and positive reactions to this unusual punishment.

"Kids were laughing at them and calling them names asking, 'Are you gay?'" student Brittney Smyers, who saw the punishment play out at the school earlier this week, told WPTV.

Others students thought the punishment to be funny if not embarrassing, but did feel that having the two boys hold hands was better than suspending them from school.

Some students insisted that it would do more in preventing fighting in the future, given the social nature and peer ridicule of the punishment.

"It was funny," student Mickey Shull told WPTV. "I've been in ROTC and it's no different than some of the stuff you have to do there. It works."

A picture of the teenagers was inevitably posted on Facebook, and several comments lambasted the school officials who approved this punishment, insisting that it was inappropriate.

One of the posts disagreed with the teenage hand-holding punishment because it encourages bullying and sent a negative message to gay students by portraying male hand-holding as something to ridicule. The school district responded that they would soon address the unique punishment.

"Mesa Public Schools is dedicated to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment. 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 from the Mesa Public 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 added.

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