An Overreaction to an Overreaction

By Daily Editorials

September 22, 2015 4 min read

All this fuss about . . . a clock?

A story out of Texas tore through social media this week — as some previously little-known stories are apt to do these days — and got the attention of thousands of people, right up to those in the White House.

It happened when a studious-looking high school freshman wearing a NASA T-shirt was led from his Irving, Texas, school in handcuffs. It didn't involve drug sales or even a handgun — but there was some concern about a weapon.

But really, it was an electronics project the student, Ahmed Mohamed, wanted to show his engineering teacher.

A clock is what it was.

But three of his teachers thought it looked like a bomb so police led Mohamed away in handcuffs, in full view of his fellow high school students. According to the Dallas Morning News, Mohamed said he was interrogated by police without allowing him to phone his parents, and the school principal wanted him to sign a written statement. A police spokesman suggested Mohamed was uncooperative.

Ultimately, the student was released without charges. He received a three-day suspension, even though the school district insists that the item posed no threat. It was basically a circuit board, wires and a digital panel that displayed the time of day, all tucked into a pencil box. It's a pretty typical project now that schools everywhere offer the very STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — that employers are begging them to pursue.

Computer engineering and robotics are now the rage in high schools across America. Students proudly display their inventions at school fairs and competitions the way previous generations showed off spewing volcano models.

Social media pundits — and really there is no shortage of those — were quick (also the norm) to choose sides. Many asked if this incident was a possible overreaction to the 14-year-old because he's a Muslim. In this day and age that's also a snap assumption and a troublesome one.

Keeping students safe is paramount for all teachers and administrators, and a sense of caution often entails making odd judgment calls in what has become a zero tolerance atmosphere. That's particularly challenging in the moment. But schools need to be a safe learning environment for all students.

It's impossible to know for sure if a suspicion of terrorism was at work in this case. But we can all agree that Americans' concerns also are heightened these days because of the turmoil in Iraq and Syria over the spreading dominance of radical Islamic State militants. Refugees are flooding into Europe. Many non-Muslims worry that radical infiltrators could make their way to America. So everyone's on guard, especially after this month's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

While we must remain vigilant, we must also remember to respect the rights of all. And more, not be driven by social media hysteria to jump to conclusions.

REPRINTED FROM JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS

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