On Thursday, March 13th, Adrionna Harris, a Bayside Middle School student in Virginia Beach, Virginia, convinced her classmate to stop harming himself. She then confiscated a razor blade that he had brought with him to school. The event happened at the end of the school day. Because she didn’t want to get in trouble for possessing the blade, she threw the blade away in the nearest trash can. She didn’t tell anyone of the event, as she didn’t think it was such a serious matter. At school the next day, she went to report the incident. She was suspended.
“’Even if I got in trouble, it didn’t matter because I was helping him… I would do it again even if I got suspended, yes,’ she said.”
Following that Thursday’s events, she was not allowed to attend school. And throughout the week following the events, news broadcasts highlighted that she faced possible expulsion. The Virginia Beach School Board nor the school made a public statement.
Adrionna has since been cleared of further action, as the school system received quite a bit of negative outcry from the community. She returned to school late last week after her final hearing.
In Virginia Beach City Public Schools, there is a ‘zero tolerance policy‘. It states that:
“a student in possession of ‘…any weapon (which a razor can be) … shall automatically be recommended for long-term suspension or expulsion.’”
Local attorney Kevin Martingayle has since begun advocating for a change to that policy. In an interview with WAVY News 10’s, Martingayle explained the flaws with zero tolerance.
“My opinion: zero tolerance takes common sense out of the equation…
“To some extent, it appears some of the school board policies tie the hand of the principal. I think the school board should take out any automatic trigger language, and let the principals make decisions on a case by case basis… they run the schools, and they should make the decisions.”
The Virginia Beach School Board has yet to make any comment on changing the policy, though the school did agreed that Adrionna took the right course of action with her classmate. And while Adrionna saved someone’s life, and she had to deal with disciplinary action. These events raise many questions:
- What happened to the young man who was harming himself?
- Has he faced disciplinary action?
- Were any services encouraged or provided for him?
- Have Adrionna’s and the young man’s families been in contact since the event?
- Are officials simply sweeing a serious issue under the rug by not publicly discussing self-harm and suicidal ideation?
Are there other questions that have yet to be added to this list? As a community, it is our responsibility to respond and act upon these types of injustices, especially when they concern youth.
The fact that there were no reports done on the young man, who truly benefitted from Adrionna’s actions, is telling. Sure, there is a matter of confidentiality; perhaps the family didn’t want to disclose their son’s identity and wanted to maintain their privacy. However, I think a greater lesson can be taken away here. This is evidence that our society continues to avoid just how stigmatized suicide and suicidal ideation is. If the school and/or family were comfortable in speaking more positively about the issue, rather than directing all attention toward Adrionna, perhaps we could be taking more steps toward suicide education and prevention in our schools.
The board, the school, the families and the community aren’t the only factors. I would even go further to say that journalists who have since reported on the issue have yet to tackle the case of self-harming and suicidal ideation. By ignoring this perspective all together, the media further cements suicide as an acceptable and normal aspect of society.
We need to change this. As concerned members of society, we can help change it simply by talking about it more. We can raise these questions with the media. We can express our concerns with school boards and schools that our children, siblings, neighbors and friends attend. We have to start these conversations now. Students, whether we know them personally or not, are growing up in a society where depression and suicide exist — but are rarely discussed. It’s our responsibility to help these students by taking preventative measures.