BARNEGAT – The old adage of “no good deed goes unpunished” might apply to a township honor student who thought his fellow students would have a ball with his gift but things bounced out of control.
Barnegat High School junior Connor Zaccagna, 17, said his intention was do something nice when he gave out a batch of bouncy balls to his fellow students on Feb. 3. “I just wanted to do something nice and put a smile on people’s faces. I like to put smiles on as many people’s faces as possible.”
However, his actions led to the student being escorted from his Italian language class and sent to the principal’s office and he later received an in-school-suspension in place of his Honors English class.
It was during his lunch period that he decided to distribute his gift to those who wanted them. “I went from table to table. I had ordered the tiny bouncy balls from Amazon. There were 250 of them and I gave them out. A few students started to bounce them a bit and I said, ‘Please don’t do that.’ Nothing happened. They didn’t get bounced out of control.”
Security guards, however, observed this activity, according to Connor.
After lunch he went to his Italian language class and was then summoned to principal’s office where he briefly saw Principal Stephen Nichol and where an acting vice principal explained to Connor that his gift to the students was a potential safety concern.
When contacted about the incident, Barnegat Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis said “We cannot discuss this matter due to student confidentiality. However, every student’s safety and well-being are the highest priority in our district.”
When asked about the district’s disciplinary procedures in a case where a student who has never been in trouble before, Latwis said, “It really depends on the infraction. We follow progressive discipline so the first offense would not carry the same consequence as the second or third time. If a student had a fight for instance, he/she may be suspended the first time.”
Latwis confirmed that the punishment of a student ultimately falls to the principal or vice principal of the school.
“It is hard to provide a black and white answer when there are so many different variables. As a district we always strive to help our students reflect on decisions made and try to infuse better judgement going forward,” Latwis said.
Connor said he was upset about being punished but was not angry. “I was told it was a safety hazard but nothing had actually happened so I thought I’d be sent back to class. I had 10 bouncy balls left and I showed them to them. They confiscated them and searched by bag to see if there were any more. They weren’t returned to me and I assume they threw them away.”
Instead of being sent back to class, Connor was presented the option of being sent home in which case he’d have to be picked up since he drives to school or receive ISS (in school suspension).
“I didn’t even know what ISS was?” his mother Diane Zaccagna said. I got a call from the acting vice principal to tell me what happened.”
“I spent the rest of the day, which was a little over a half hour in a tiny room that two other kids were in,” Connor said adding he had missed his Honors English class as a result of the incident.
While his mother said she understood the issue of the safety concern she felt the method in which it was handled was an overreaction.
The student who has never been in any trouble before, saw it as “an act of kindness,” his mother Diane Zaccagna said. She said that a day after the ISS she received a follow-up call from the school’s acting vice-principal assuring her that nothing was in Connor’s file and that he had not actually received ISS at all.
Connor however was not allowed to drive home after school ended that day. He was required to have a parent sign him out. His father David Zaccagna happened to have the day off and went to the school sign him out.
Diane Zaccagna was told that as her son was upset and administrators felt it was best to keep him out of class. “I was told there was no other place to move Connor. I suggested that it would have been more appropriate to bring him to either the nurse’s office or the guidance office.”
“I’m still not sure if it was recorded or not because he did have ISS,” Diane Zaccagna said.
Latwis said regarding whether in school suspensions were generally documented on a student’s record that “generally they would be if it was an assigned consequence. It wouldn’t be if a student was sent there to cool down.”
Connor who is in the top 5% of his class and a member of the school marching band joined his parents on the evening of Feb. 5 to be inducted in the Tri-M Music Honor Society. He said he shook the hand of Mr. Nichol that night.
The incident went viral on Facebook and several news outlets quickly picked up on the story.
Connor said his fellow students also supported him and felt his punishment was an overreaction.
“I support his kindness 110%,” his mother said adding she felt the matter could have been addressed in a much better way and she plans to bring up the subject at the district’s next Board of Education meeting. She said the follow-up call from the acting vice principal a day after the incident may have been prompted by the social media backlash the incident sparked. She said Connor had nothing to do with it going viral.
Latwis said, “not one parent has reached out to me about this specific incident. Every year we review our code of conduct and look for more impactful and proactive ways to work with our students that may make a poor decision. In essence, that is what the code of conduct is supposed to do. It is supposed to work with our students in an educational way to learn from mistakes and hopefully make a better decision going forward.”
As for Connor, like his confiscated rubber balls that have yet to be returned, he’s bounced back from the incident already. “I don’t regret what I did,” Connor said adding it was an expression of wanting to do something nice and while he understood the concerns, a conversation rather than missing class time would have provided him a better lesson.
Ironically, the student did observe a motto on the wall where he was confined, it read “Be Good to People, For No Reason.”