A Georgia middle school is moving forward with its suspension of a black honor roll student who unintentionally used a counterfeit $20 to pay for his lunch last week. Christian Philon, a 12-year-old Austin Road Middle School student, received the fake bill from his parents, who in turn received it as change from a fast-food restaurant. Even though both Christian and his parents maintain they had no idea the $20 was counterfeit, the school is sticking by its 10-day in-school suspension.
“I’ve never handled counterfeit money. I don’t know what it looks like,” Christian’s father, Earvin Philon told WSB TV Atlanta. “There was no way when I gave it to my son that he knew it was counterfeit.”
Christian says he didn’t find out until he handed the $20 to the school cafeteria worker, who marked it with a counterfeit pen.
“I was confused on how the money was counterfeit. And how my parents received it,” Christian told the TV station.
But despite his parents explaining the circumstances to the school—and even filing a police report about unknowingly taking the counterfeit bill—administrators drew a hard line with the student. Whether it was accidental or not didn’t matter.
“They said, ‘You possessed it, so you’re going to have to pay for it,’” Christian told WSB TV.
The final decision was handed down by a disciplinary panel on Wednesday, but the Philons say they plan to appeal the decision. If the two-week suspension holds, Christian will be part of a disturbing and longstanding trend of American schools handing down suspensions at disproportionate rates to black students—in particular, black boys.
These suspensions are not without consequence. Punishments compound, and should Christian get in trouble again, the next disciplinary action will likely be more severe. A number of studies show suspensions have an adverse effect on student’s academic performance and test scores—though just how long this effect lasts is unclear. Suspensions, even in-school ones, also increase a student’s likelihood of dropping out, according to another study.
It’s a harsh lesson to pass on to a 12-year-old child—that no matter his merits, no matter his circumstances, no matter the truth of his situation, no matter the support of his parents, an institution entrusted with his care and development would rather punish him than hear him out. Or, heaven forbid, give him the benefit of the doubt.