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By Mehrose Ahmad, Olivia Chan, and Sumaita Hasan
On the annual physics trip to Six Flags Great Adventure, teachers stopped bus one en route to the theme park in order to investigate possible drug use by students. Students immediately began sharing pictures, videos, and information about the incident on various social media platforms, which led to a debate over how and when they should be able to use social media on trips and at school-sponsored events.
According to several students on the bus when the incident occurred, the back of the bus smelled strongly of marijuana. Once teachers became aware of the scent, they stopped the bus and asked the student responsible to confess and walk to the front of the bus, otherwise threatening to return to school.
A junior admitted to possessing a brownie containing marijuana and discarding it in the bathroom. Since there was no physical evidence of the substance, teachers began investigating to make sure no one else carried it.
“[A teacher] started sniffing people like the area around each seat; it was ridiculous. At this point everyone was confused because we all were under the impression that [the student] had confessed and that it was over but the teachers were still asking for the weed,” describes a student.
Students were kept waiting on bus one after they arrived at Six Flags, although students on other buses were let off. The passengers quickly took to social media, posting under the tag “#freebusone.”
A number of students interviewed said that the riders on the bus were told to stop posting the tag to their Snapchat stories and that the bus remained outside of the park until teachers finished investigating.
One student said, “Everyone was upset because we paid a lot and the tickets were nonrefundable. Some people on the bus even started crying.”
The incident provoked debate about proper usage of social media, particularly after teachers began telling students to stop posting about the issue with their smartphones.
A student expresses, “They told us that it was an external problem now that spread it on social media and that we needed to delete everything…[prior to the trip] they [teachers] never explicitly said we couldn’t post anything or tell our parents or friends what was going on.”
In regard to the issue, Physics teacher Joel Heitman states, “The people who posted on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat…they had just as poor judgement [as the student who confessed]. That [situation] has no purpose being public when it is a private matter. There is something wrong about putting it up on Facebook because it could jeopardize many people.”
He continues, “Students feel that they have all these rights; they’re not rights, they’re privileges. [Limiting students’ use of social media] sets a precedent and it’s easier to police everyone than one person. Is it fair? No, it’s not fair. Life isn’t fair. Students need to know that on school trips, all THHS and DOE rules and regulations apply.”
The THHS school trip form states, “students who violate the school’s discipline code may be excluded by the school from participating in the trip.” However, nowhere in the DOE policy do the rules blatantly prohibit use of social media during school trips.
Dean Robin Figelman addressed the policy at THHS, stating, “It is under the discretion of advisors whether you are allowed to use your phone.”
In regards to banning phone use in school, Principal Anthony Barbetta says, “I don’t want to have to take that measure, but we have the right to stop using cell-phones on school trips.” He continues, “It is hard to control what people post on social media. If we had to we would have a strict policy on it. However, we want cellphones to be used as educational tools, but students just have to be responsible when they use it.”
Nonetheless, some students believe they were justified in posting on social media and that the school should not impose limitations.
“In my opinion, it [restricting social media rights] was hypocritical considering how we had no warning to keep the affair an internal matter and even a teacher posted a Snapchat story about the event,” claims another student.
On the other hand, one student argues, “the students who went on social media to spread the news were being immature. If they were mature, then they would have handled the situation better. I feel the way the teachers reacted was justified.”
The issue also sparked controversy inside the classroom, as one student secretly recorded a physics teacher discussing the issue in class and posted the video to a social media account. This pushed teachers to emphasize limiting social media rights even further.
Primarily, students reacted strongly to suggestions from teachers that the class of 2017 should collectively be punished for the social media postings. Some suggested that prom itself should be canceled.
One student said, “Punishing the entire grade is meaningless —prom is one of the only reasons seniors behave so that they don’t rack up demerits and if you take that away, you take away the main reason to not misbehave.”
Someone else remarks, “In this era, social media is very influential and a huge part of everyday life, and I don’t think the junior grade should be held accountable.”
“The teachers are failing to acknowledge the root of the situation which is not social media, but the offender,” says another student.
Additional reporting by Rabia Hasan and Ilyssa Delos Reyes