Nine-year-old Aiden Steward has been suspended from his fourth grade class in Kermit, Texas, three times this school year. But the third time definitely wasn’t the charm for the school, after the boy’s father created a media firestorm by claiming that the boy’s most recent suspension was for threatening to make another student “disappear,” using the One Ring from Lord of the Rings.
Now, the school has issued a press release attempting to give its side of a story that has drawn fire from outraged Tolkien fans on social media, some of whom have retaliated by attacking the school on Google+ and other public review arenas.
The boy’s father, Jason Steward, told local news outlet the Odessa American that his son had just watched the final movie in the Hobbit trilogy before going to class wearing a replica of the ring. The boy then allegedly proceeded to tell another student he could use the ring to make the student disappear.
Steward said his son had already been unfairly suspended twice from the Texas school. The first time, he alleged, was for referring to another student as black, while the second time was for bringing an educational book to school. The father told the Daily News that Aiden wanted to show his class a depiction of the solar system in the Big Book of Knowledge, but his teacher took issue with an illustration of a pregnant woman in the book.
The book actually contains a detailed two-page spread on sexual reproduction that some might consider too mature for fourth graders.
The school district stayed mum on Steward’s claims, citing confidentiality laws that prohibit public discussion of student discipline.
Though the details surrounding the suspensions remain unclear, the Internet ran with it. On Google+, more than a dozen one-star reviews for the school piled up, as angry Internet users resorted to name-calling and parodies. One user named Matthew Shepard wrote:
This school is horrible! They dragged my sister out back and water boarded her for bringing a Harry Potter book to show and tell beacuse warlocks are the enemy of baby zombie Jesus.
The school also took hits on school feedback site GreatSchools.org, in a campaign organized at least in part by a website affiliated with A Voice For Men, central arm of the misogynistic men’s rights movement. On the other side of the political spectrum, outlets like feminist geek website The Mary Sue also got in on the game.
A call to the beleaguered staff at Kermit Elementary from the Daily Dot found them efficiently anticipating questions and routing us through to the superintendent’s office. This afternoon, Superintendent Bill Boyd finally issued a brief statement, which reiterated that the school can’t comment on student disciplinary issues due to confidentiality laws. But Boyd also seemed determined to debunk the idea that the school would discipline a student based on a literary reference:
Kermit ISD cannot disclose information on the discipline of any KISD student, because it is confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”). We would, however, like to emphasize that our teachers and administrators are well-trained and have properly implemented the District’s policy and student code of conduct, and certainly do not base disciplinary placement decisions on literary or cinematic references as reported by the Odessa American. Kermit ISD strives to keep all students safe, and to focus above all on providing them with the highest quality of education. There are many good things going on in Kermit ISD that deserve far more attention than this matter, and for that reason, the District will provide no further comment.
Without clarification from the district or verification of Steward’s claims, it seems only Aiden, his teacher, and the student who almost disappeared know what really happened.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons