ECMS student suspended: Officials say his tongue ring was a distraction' to others

Published 5:52 am Tuesday, January 8, 2002

By By Robbie Byrd
Kristopher "Kris" Runyon thought his new tongue ring was cool, but school officials didn't agree.
So they kicked him out n at least until he removes it.
The Escambia County Middle School eighth grader was suspended by school officials Monday after arriving to school with the ring.
Buck Powell, Escambia County School System superintendent, said he supports the decision of ECMS Principal Herbert Payne to suspend Runyon pending removal of the ring.
"(Principal) Payne has determined that wearing tongue jewelry is a distraction and I support his decision 100 percent," Powell said. "I don't have a problem with the young man piercing his tongue, but I have a problem with him wearing it to school."
Officials say removal of the ring will terminate the issue.
"We told Kris that if he took it out, he could stay," Payne said. "But if he didn't then he needs to go home. He can come back anytime, as long as he takes out his tongue ring."
School officials provided Runyon and his mother, Angela Carter of Atmore with a litany of reasons for their decision.
"When I showed up they said it was a health issue," said Carter. "I said not as long as he's taking care of it the way he's supposed to.'"
Marshall Harris of Tattoo Zone in Mobile, where Runyon's tongue was pierced, said that there are little health risks for the person who receives the tongue ring if they follow proper aftercare guidelines and that there is no health risk to others.
"If aftercare is done properly, there are really no health problems," Harris said. "To other people, there is absolutely no health risk. There is nothing they could pass ofrom a piercing that would affect others' health."
Payne said he feels that the ring could be a serious health issue for Runyon.
"Personally, I think it's a danger to the child," Payne said. "Say he swallowed it, then we have a real emergency. It could also impede his speech and that be a distraction and could adversely affect his education."
After school officials discussed the situation, they then told Carter the ring was distracting and against school policy.
"They told me it was against policies," Carter said. "But it's not in the school's handbook or the Board's handbook that they send home. All it says is boys can't wear earrings; we looked into it, read all the books. And it wasn't said in the (beginning of the year) assembly."
Powell said other piercings will be addressed in next year's student handbook.
Powell said the decision was made because Payne felt it was distracting, and that does fall under the principal's discretion as to what is or is not a distraction, which is "clearly a part of the handbook all students receive."
Both Runyon and Carter question how the ring could be distracting.
"If it's in his mouth, I don't see how that could be distracting," Carter said. "It's his body. It wouldn't have been a distraction if they wouldn't have pulled him out of class."
Payne said that the tongue ring could lead to other types of piercings that could be even more distracting.
"If we allow Kris to wear his tongue ring then I forsee kids wearing rings in the lips, nose and eyelids," Payne said. "Kids try to imitate sports stars and rock stars and there are some things these stars wear that are not appropriate for school."
In August 2001, Alabama Governor Don Siegelman sharply criticized piercings after a Hoover student was suspended from school until he complied with the schools policy that said boys were not allowed to wear earrings on campus.
"I don't think guys ought to be wearing earrings," Siegelman is reported as saying in The Birmingham News. "I think kids that put metal through their tongues are idiots."

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