Parents have slammed school officials for violating “freedom of speech” as two Massachusetts students were suspended for ten days each after uploading a photo of themselves holding pellet guns to Facebook. The students, aged 16, from Middleborough were pictured holding the Airsoft guns, toy replicas that fire plastic pellets, while wearing formal dress intended for Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School’s homecoming dance. The picture was taken at one of their homes, not on school grounds or during school hours. “We wanted something unique and different instead of using flowers like everyone else. We were like, ‘let’s use something we like to do on the weekend as a prop.’” said Tito Velez, one of the students, adding “Here we are, one photo is getting us almost expelled.” The school superintendent claimed that the action was taken because it caused a “disruption,” after someone reported the Facebook image to school officials. “It has nothing to do with free speech. Their behavior caused a significant disruption in the school,” said Superintendent Richard Gross. “We had our homecoming event on Friday and following that the students were looking at Facebook and, of course, it caused a tumult in the building.” In the same breath, however, Gross cited recent school shootings, noting , “You have Newtown, you have what just recently happened. This happened right on the heels of what happened in the Pacific Northwest.”
The father of Jamie Peirera, the other student pictured, called the action “ridiculous,” adding that “basically it’s a toy gun.” “It wasn’t done on school property, it was done in the house. It’s nothing to do with school or scaring or whatever it is. This is like making a molehill out of an anthill. I don’t think it’s right at all. Getting a day off or a warning is more than sufficient than going to this extent. That’s my bottom line,” he said. Peirera also took umbrage at the fact that he was not contacted before the teenagers were called in for questioning by school officials and police. “When I asked if I could call my mom they said, ‘No,’ and they were doing it for me and then they had a police officer come talk with me,” Jamie Peirera told reporters. “We were brought into separate rooms and then questioned by a police officer without parental consent there,” Pereira said. “They took me to an empty room, searched everything I had on me, my bag, my clothes,” Velez said.