A laser pointer has resulted in an in-school suspension for a 12-year-old Dubuque, Iowa, girl, because school officials said the devices–which emit a tiny red beam of light–are treated as though they are weapons. Like many school districts, Dubuque is cracking down on laser pointers, confiscating them when it can and noting they are a disruption in class and potentially dangerous.

“We’ve noticed it this school year,” said Ed Mulholland, a Hempstead High School assistant principal. “It’s become a fad.”

The battery-powered pointers contain a small, but powerful laser diode. The diode emits a red light that travels as far as 300 feet. The light helps lecturers point to information on a screen, chart, or blackboard.

Laser pointers are available at office supply stores from key-chain versions that sell for about $12 to fancier versions built into pens that sell for $80 or more.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has warned parents that laser pointers can be more intense than the sun’s light. Aiming pointers at the eye can be more damaging than staring into the sun.

Dubuque Superintendent Joel Morris said there is no district policy about laser pointers.

But, he said, “We have been dealing with them as if they were a weapon.”

Bringing a laser pointer to school usually results in confiscation, he said. But if they’re used threateningly, he said, that can lead to an in-school suspension.

Wendy Balser’s 12-year-old daughter, Kambrie, brought a low-powered laser pointer to school and was given a three-day in-school suspension.

“It was definitely a shock to hear it was considered a weapon,” Balser said. “If you shine it into an eye for a prolonged period of time it could cause damage. But we all know that when you put a pencil in an eye it can cause damage, too.”