Teen suspended for allegedly making gang sign is latest victim of zero tolerance

Teen suspended for allegedly making gang sign is latest victim of zero tolerance

toaster pastry — verb: suspend a student for violating a school zero tolerance policy based on the flimsiest of evidence. (If you bite your Pop Tart into the shape of a handgun, the principal may toaster pastry you for a week.)

There are toaster pastryings and then there are toaster pastryings. But toaster pastrying doesn’t get any more extreme than it did for 15-year-old Dontadrian Bruce, an honor student at Olive Branch High School in Olive Branch, Miss. The teen was subject to “indefinite suspension with a recommendation of expulsion” after administrators glimpsed a photo that had been taken by biology teacher that showed him standing next to a project he had completed.

What had young Bruce done to deserve such a harsh sentence? He had posed with three fingers raised — his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, palm facing outward. That was on a Friday. The following Monday, Bruce was summoned during first period by assistant principal Todd Nichols, who showed him the photo. “You’re suspended because you’re holding up gang signs in this picture,” Nichols told him.

According to NBC News, the school’s zero tolerance policy dictates imposing unusually severe disciplinary measures against students affiliated with a street gang. Bruce swears he is not — that the gesture he made signified “3,” the number on his football jersey, adding that all members of the team do this. But school administrators saw the gesture differently, as the calling card of the Vice Lords, a Chicago-based gang with a strong presence in Memphis, 20 miles north of Olive Branch.

Dontadrian Bruce

The boy’s mother, Janet Hightower, begged the school to reconsider. “He’s a good child,” she told them. “I know what he does 24 hours a day. If he leaves home and goes two houses down, he’s gonna text me and let me know.”

But the administration had made up its mind. On February 6, Bruce appeared before a disciplinary hearing officer who decided his fate as detailed above.

Eventually, the school did relent, if only after the story exploded on social media. A decision was made to reduce Bruce’s suspension to 21 days, and on February 24th he returned to school.

Administrators now maintain that the matter is closed, but Janet Hightower isn’t so sure. is working with an ACLU attorney on seeing to it that the incident doesn’t appear on her son’s permanent record or affect his school performance.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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