March 07, 2006

Local Bath and Body Works to picket in protest

Zero tolerance for the sweet stuff at a Cape Cod (MA) high school:

A Cape Cod high school may soon be the first in the state free of all colognes, perfumes, scented deodorants and body sprays. The Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School committee met Monday night to discuss the fragrance ban for staff and students proposed by Superintendent Barry J. Motta.

The proposed policy will be sent to a subcommittee for review, Motta said, and will likely become part of the student handbook.

Strong fragrances can irritate people with asthma, trigger headaches, and cause respiratory and neurological symptoms. Motta said he did not know about the possible effects of perfumes and colognes until one of his staff members said they suffered from chemical sensitivity.

Leaving aside the fact that some teenagers do seem to bathe in Axe and White Rain, emitting toxic fragrance waves to the point where local TV reception is disturbed, I think a ban is a ridiculous idea. For one thing, zero tolerance policies are problematic enough when limited to drugs. How can this possibly be enforced? What teacher wants to be the one sniffing under arms each day? How are they going to prove who has on perfume, and what the penalties should be? Will it be detention or sponge baths for the smelly little delinquents?

Also, while asthma and allergies are no joke, "chemical sensitivity" problems have no unified underlying syndrome or triggers, and are thought by many to be of psychosomatic origin. Why should it be considered a "not overboard" response for all student to have to replace all their toiletries, or give them up altogether, because one staff member - who has presumably chosen to work among hundreds of kids - is making this claim?

Posted by kswygert at 05:33 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

February 27, 2006

The Breakfast Club, with mom and dad

British schools get tough on yobs - and their parents:

PARENTS face weekend detentions with their kids under a tough crackdown on classroom rowdies. Unruly pupils will have to attend catch-up lessons while their mums and dads get a lecture on how to control them. The move is among sweeping powers to tackle problem children in the Education Bill unveiled tomorrow.

Teachers will be given the legal right to detain kids on any day they choose, with or without parents’ consent. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly wants heads to set up Saturday sin-bins for bullies, yobs and truants. Offenders will be forced to turn up in full school uniform, with a parent, for two hours’ tuition. Ms Kelly said it would give staff more authority and raise standards.

She said: “It only takes a handful of poorly behaved pupils to make life difficult for staff and disrupt the education of others. The message to the minority is clear — disrupt the class and you will disrupt your weekend.” Parenting orders, backed by the threat of a £500 fine, will be slapped on families of kids who skip detention.

That's a hefty fine. Wonder if the parental rule is really expected to have an effect on the "yobs," or if the parental refusal, heaped on top of student misbehavior, is really just an avenue towards a quicker expulsion of the student? The one school that has already instituted these rules reports that "truancy rates have slumped while exam results have soared in four years" - which could certainly be the result of the problem kids being booted after their parents failed to attend detention.

Headteachers are also set to get more control over the fate of excluded pupils. They will be able to summon parents of kids barred for bad behaviour for an interview before they are re-admitted. Another measure allows teachers to seize mobile phones, iPods and games consoles if they are used in class.

They didn't have those powers before now? Wow.

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January 05, 2006

Misjudged by a mile

You know, I can't blame today's schoolkids for being confused.

First, they encounter teachers who do everything possible to avoid telling an under-performing child that they are failing, and avoid every possible thing that could be correlated with negative feedback, sometimes going so far as to ban teachers from using red pens to mark papers. After graduation, though, students who enter the real world discover that bosses usually don't shy away from poor performance evaluations or outright firings. In addition, the real world asserts its uncaring attitude by, for example, allowing bridges that were badly built to fall down, even if it makes the builder feel bad. Thus, underachievers tend to discover that such behavior is treated quite differently in real life than in school.

(Update: Think I'm exaggerating the movement to prevent teachers from ever saying anything in a classroom that might hurt a student's feelings? Think again.)

And then there's the situation of the bad kids - you know, like the ones who take Midol, or carry a historical gun replica as part of a school project, or who perform other such outrageous acts. In schools these days, such "crimes" can carry stiff penalties.

But, in the real world, repeated violent sexual assaults on children don't deserve punishment, because, you know, punishment doesn't really work:

Prosecutors argued that confessed child-rapist Mark Hulett, 34, of Williston deserved at least eight years behind bars for repeatedly raping a little girl countless times starting when she was seven. But [Vermont] Judge Edward Cashman disagreed explaining that he no longer believes that punishment works.

"The one message I want to get through is that anger doesn't solve anything. It just corrodes your soul," said Judge Edward Cashman speaking to a packed Burlington courtroom. Most of the on-lookers were related to a young girl who was repeatedly raped by Mark Hulett who was in court to be sentenced.

The sex abuse started when the girl was seven and ended when she was ten. Prosecutors were seeking a sentence of eight to twenty years in prison, in part, as punishment.

The judge gave this guy 60 days in jail. And he's very concerned that the criminal sex offender be given rehabilitation - which the offender can attend while living a free life after he serves his whole two months in jail.

It's not only the victim's family who should be enraged by this. Imagine that you were a high school student in Vermont, and that you were expelled for having a legally-owned, unloaded rifle locked in your car - a situation that was explicitly excluded from punishment in the Gun-Free Schools Act. Or you were the student in NC who faced 30 days in jail just for cursing in front of your teacher. Or you were any student living under insane "zero tolerance" policies. And then you read about this judge's statements.

As I said, not hard to blame the kids for being confused.

(Hat tip to Opinion Journal for the story, to ZeroIntelligence for many of these links, and to the Ace of Spades for his additional outrage. Michelle Malkin, on the other hand, was surprisingly reticent on this topic; my guess is she's too busy hugging her children while explaining that any bad man who comes near them won't live long enough to go in front of a judge.)

Posted by kswygert at 05:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

Welcome to school - don't be annoyed

Welcome to the world of zero tolerance, where students are not allowed to be annoyed:

An eighth–grader at West Central Junior High has been removed from school and may face a charge of disorderly conduct after school officials learned last week about a list that named students and school staff the boy considered irritating...

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Grimm said the teen was taken out of school after being confronted Nov. 24 by Principal Jeff Nichols, who learned about the list late the previous day. A disciplinary hearing before the School Board has been set for Thursday. The list was not a product of the Internet, Grimm said, but was in physical possession of the student.

Grimm would not go into detail about the nature of the list, or explain why its existence was deemed serious enough to precipitate the student's removal from school and the involvement of law enforcement...

The superintendent went on to say there were other issues involving the student that needed to be addressed.

I would hope so, because otherwise I would vigorously argue that a student's right to describe another student as "annoying" is protected by the First Amendment.

Posted by kswygert at 11:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 29, 2005

Teaching kids to take it

Fellow blogger and Devoted Reader Darren encounters zero-tolerance idiocy at his son's school:

Yesterday I was talking to a man who is pretty involved at my son's school. We were talking about the school principal and he relayed the following story.

He and [the principal] were talking about fighting, and he said that if his son were attacked, he'd expect the boy to defend himself. She replied that the boy would be suspended or perhaps expelled if he did; rather, he should curl up on the ground in a ball and hope someone else runs to get help.

Dear Lord. That's the most obnoxious thing I've ever heard of. I can't think of any situation in which I'd hope a child of mine would go into a fetal position and wait for someone to come to his aid - especially if he's at risk of danger.

Darren also notes that the school in which he teaches treats aggressor and victim alike, punishment-wise, after fights, and one of his commenters wisely points out the unintended consequences of this:

Our school hands out a 10 day suspension, no questions asked, for anybody involved in a fight. It doesn't matter who started it and who is defending himself. One consequence of this rule is that kids who are defending themselves see no reason to refrain from beating the crap out of the other kid. Once you have been goaded into taking a swing, you are suspended anyway, so why not really let loose?

That's a great system, isn't it?

What's the old saying? In for a penny, in for a pound?

Posted by kswygert at 05:50 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

On the thin edge of the (butter) knife

*Sigh.*

Note this particular sentence: "Law enforcement was contacted in the case." Meaning, the administrators in this case didn't just apply a ridiculous standard in this case, but they made sure involve cops as well.

Will I soon see, on my beloved Court TV, an episode of COPS where the officers go in with guns blazing and dogs barking after a - gasp! - butter knife is found on school property?

Posted by kswygert at 04:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 09, 2005

MADD about alcohol at home

The Washington Post notes that parents who are realistic about their kids drinking - but absolutely don't want them driving - are still considered a target by MADD:

When they learned that their son planned to celebrate the prom with a booze bash at a beach 40 miles away, William and Patricia Anderson instead threw a supervised party for him and his friends at their home. They served alcohol, but William Anderson stationed himself at the party's entrance and collected keys from every teen who showed. No one who came to the party could leave until the next morning.

For this the Andersons found themselves arrested and charged with supplying alcohol to minors. The case ignited a fiery debate that eventually spilled onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving oddly decided to make an example of William Anderson, a man who probably did more to keep drunk teens off the road that night than most Providence-area parents.

The scariest part of this article?

The Virginia case mentioned above is troubling for another reason: The cops raided that home without a search warrant. This is becoming more and more common in jurisdictions with particularly militant approaches to underage drinking. A prosecutor in Wisconsin popularized the practice in the late 1990s when he authorized deputies to enter private residences without warrants, "by force, if necessary," when there was the slightest suspicion of underage drinking. For such "innovative" approaches, Paul Bucher won plaudits from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which awarded him a place in the "Prosecutors as Partners" honor roll on the MADD Web site.

Why is MADD going after parties where car keys are confiscated?

Posted by kswygert at 03:54 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 19, 2005

Real toy guns, imaginary policies

We knew this day was coming - schools are now enforcing zero-tolerance policies that are not only idiotic, but don't actually exist:

Two fourteen year old students at Farb Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District were arrested yesterday for possession of a toy Airsoft gun...

This expulsion attempt will occur despite possession of imitation weapons being classified as an offense punishable only by suspension in the school's discipline policy. By contrast the district policy for suspension doesn't deal with imitation weapons at all. In order to be expelled according to district policy a student would not only have to posses an actual weapon but would also have to use it.

So here we have a school district that had two students arrested for a legal activity and is expected to expel them for something they don't classify as an offense...They are enforcing a zero tolerance weapons policy that does not even exist.

ZI has links to back up his statement. Apparently the officials involved assume that parents don't know how to use Google.

Posted by kswygert at 08:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 31, 2005

Does hitting parents in the wallet help keep kids in school?

One Arizona tribal council wants parents to pay the price for their childrens' truancy - literally:

It's a classic problem. How do you make sure kids get to school on time? One Arizona community says the answer is simple: you charge parents each time a student is late or skips school.

Weary of poor grades and low graduation rates, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation families are being fined if their kids skip school or arrive long after the bell rings.

The tribal council is fining parents $100 a day the first time a child is significantly late or absent. That fine goes up to a maximum of $300 a day for repeat offenders.

Let's hope the council works with parents to help them establish more control over their children. I believe many parents today feel that schools are a big part of undermining their parental influence; it would be extremely frustrating for a parent to feel as though they have no say over what their child learns, but will be hit in the pocketbook if their child doesn't listen.

Posted by kswygert at 04:35 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

An ass-inine prank

So, is this a violation of the dress code, or the no-weapons policy?

HOUSTON -- A middle school student in northwest Harris County was punished Wednesday after he was caught trying to moon one of his friends in the school's parking lot. The indecent exposure got Easton Hohensee expelled from Strack Intermediate for one day.

He will also spend the end of the school year in in-school suspension and could spend the first 30 days of the next school year in an alternative school.

You can get "expelled" for just one day? I thought that would just be a "suspension." I think the punishment's a tad overbearing for such a juvenile prank.

A Fark commenter beat me to the title I wanted for this post: "We can all thank Bush for his 'No Child's Behind' education reform policy."

Posted by kswygert at 09:22 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Love thy neighbor, but don't hug thy classmate

The zero tolerance brigade outdoes itself, once again:

Public displays of affection are against the rules at Sky View Middle School, and 14-year-old Cazz Altomare found that out the hard way. She got detention earlier this year after hugging her boyfriend in the hallway as he headed to lunch and she went to gym class.

Her mother, Leslee Swanson was infuriated by the punishment - in fact, when she went to pick her daughter up from detention, she gave her a good, hard hug. "I'm trying to understand what's wrong with a hug," said Swanson, 42.

But administrators said such policies are standard-issue at middle schools across the country. "Really, all we're trying to do is create an environment that's focused on learning, and learning proper manners is part of that," said Dave Haack, the principal of Cascade Middle School, also in Bend. "This is not us being the romance police." Students only end up with detention after repeated warnings, he said.

Just how wrong does childrearing have to go for children to end up as - *gasp*! - serial huggers?

Posted by kswygert at 12:19 PM | Comments (3)

May 09, 2005

It's all Home Depot's fault

I'm convinced that some schools don't have any actual adults running the show:

An 11-year-old boy was arrested this week for carrying ten nails in his pocket at a Rock Hill middle school and charged with carrying an unlawful weapon. Dianne McCray, assistant principal at Rawlinson Road Middle School, asked the child Wednesday what was jingling in his pocket and the student gave her the 3.5" long nails.

A school resource officer arrested him. His father picked him up and he was not taken to the police station. The father said the nails were left in his pocket after a Boy Scout outing. He says it is ridiculous that his son faces an unlawful weapon charge. He says the boy threatened no one.

Yup, you read that right - "arrested." For nails. In his pocket. Bothering no one. Does this school district just have a lot of extra cash lying around that they're hoping someone will sue for?

The school's defense seems to be that perhaps, in one explanation, the boy said they were for self-defense, though they weren't used as such:

The boy offered different explanations of why he had the nails: they were left over from a project 10 days earlier; they were for self defense because a suspicious man was seen in his neighborhood or that he needed the nails for a weekend Boy Scout outing.

His father said the nails were in pants worn on an earlier Boy Scout outing. They "were not to be used as a weapon at school." Lt. Jerry Waldrop of the Rock Hill Police Department said the nails could been used against other students. The boy "did state he had them for protection against a suspicious male in the neighborhood."

I could state that my stapler and pen were for self-protection, too; would that have put me at odds with the ridiculously-broad school rules?

Posted by kswygert at 12:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 29, 2005

Is that a burrito in your pocket, or are you pissed off about your math grades?

Yeesh.

It wasn’t a gun that caused police to lock down Marshall Junior High School in Clovis. It was a burrito. Police locked the school down after a citizen saw a student walking into school with a long, skinny object wrapped in a white cloth. He thought it was a gun and called police.

Officers searched for the student while the school was on lockdown. But the student came forward first, admitting he had what they were looking for – a two-and-a-half-foot-long burrito. The student had taken the burrito, wrapped in foil and a white cloth, to present in a culinary career class. It was loaded – with meat and beans.

Police called the incident a good exercise for all of the officers who responded to the school. One observer joked that with the right combination of ingredients, the burrito could have been a deadly weapon.

That's not a joke in my household, thanks to my fiance's love for jambalaya, burritos, and spicy chicken wings. And did I mention we have only one bathroom?

Posted by kswygert at 03:22 PM | Comments (287) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Sticking to her knitting

Not only do I disgree with this Austin school's zero tolerance policy...

Our yarn -- pun intended -- began Wednesday when Mariel Polter, 12, an all-A student in seventh grade at Kealing Middle School, dragged out her purple plastic knitting needles in class to do some knitting. Mariel had just finished up her TAKS test early. So she figured she'd busy herself and kill some time creatively...

Well, the teacher in Mariel's classroom wasn't laughing...about it, apparently. Because he got on the phone to Mom to tell her that her daughter had brought knitting needles to school. See, the knitting needles were considered potentially dangerous weapons under the school's zero-tolerance policy.

...I think knitting is a skill that should be taught in school and assessed on the TAKS. That way even if you don't learn to read Shakespeare, or balance your checkbook, you can still clothe yourself (and others) in nifty sweaters and shawls.

Posted by kswygert at 04:42 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 31, 2005

Photos don't kill people

How much crime and mayhem could result from a photo of a gun? Since when did a photo become a weapon? And since when did Douglas McKay High School (OR) become so terrified of guns that even photos of them are verboten?

My 15 year old daughter, Shea, out of sheer pride, took a picture of her brother to her high school to share with a teacher. Her brother, Bill, also a graduate of Douglas McKay High School in Salem, Oregon, is a US Marine and a decorated veteran of the Iraq war...

Shea, a freshman at McKay, has become acquainted with one of her teachers that her brother also had while in school...Mr. Costa has several pictures of McKay graduates hung in his classroom and Shea asked that if she brought a picture of Bill would he also hang it with the others. He of course said yes.

Shea proudly printed a picture of her brother and took it to school. The picture she selected is of her brother in Iraq, in combat uniform and holding a gun. Just, a typical picture of a Marine at work in a war zone. Mr. Costa asked the school administration for permission to hang the picture due to the graphic nature of the picture. He was denied, based on the fact that a gun is included in the picture. From there I’m told it was taken to the Salem-Keizer Administrative offices and it was scanned and the gun removed in order for it meet the guidelines of political correctness.

Michelle Malkin has posted the photo in question. The school's principal believes that posting this photo would send the wrong "message" to the students. And Head's Bunker loses his, well, head over this ridiculous story:

Has it come to this, really? Have we allowed such delusional people to run our schools, brainwashing our youth that there is no legitimate use for a weapon? Are they going to go through the school library and remove all images of guns from their history books? Are they going to take their foolish "no-tolerance" policy for guns and be consistent and strip their books of any significant event in which guns were used to liberate, defend, restore, and dispense justice?

I wouldn't taunt them, HB. I bet they would.

Update: The controversy appears to have been cleared up.

Posted by kswygert at 10:43 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 25, 2005

So much for spiking the punch

In response to evidence of a little underage drinking, school officials in Belmont, MA, follow the "time-honored traditions" (according to Wizbang) of handling the situation in the worst possible way.

According to the Boston Herald article:

Belmont Superintendent Dr. Peter Holland said the trouble began when chaperones noticed 10-15 out of the 450 students at the dance acting "in an impaired state.'' Some students were vomiting and at least one teen passed out in mid-conversation, Holland said.

Sounds bad, but the response (as summarized by Wizbang) was worse:

(1) Overreact. They shut down the dance and called for ambulances. 14 ambulances. After fighting over the 6 drunken teenagers who could plausibly be taken to the hospital for intoxication, the other eight went back to their station.

(2) Give the offenders a slap on the wrist. Monday morning, Belmont school officials gave twelve of the now-sober louts their punishment. For showing up at the dance intoxicated, in violation of several state laws, they decided to send a strong message. All the miscreants were given a one-day suspension.

(3) Punish all the other students as well, so the offenders don't feel picked on. School officials over in Westwood decided they would learn a lesson from Belmont's problem. From now on, all students attending dances in Westwood will have to blow into breathalyzers ($300-$500 each).

Is it just me, or doesn't it seem like (a) isolating the offenders & calling the cops, (b) calling all their parents to come them after getting a BAC reading, and (c) kicking all the offenders out of school for at least a week would be the more rational response? It's outrageous that any student will have to blow into a breathalyzer to enter a dance from now on. I also have to disagree with the commenter on Wizbang's site who says this is related to NCLB; wouldn't calling 14 ambulances be making this seem like more trouble for the school than it is, not less?

Oh, and let's talk margin of errors on breathalyzers; this site puts it at 50%. Where does this school intend to set the BAC bar? Will students have to blow a perfect zero score to be admitted? I would assume they would set the bar that low, since drinking is illegal for those under 21, but what does that mean with such a large margin of error? Breathalyzers most definitely are NOT perfect measures of blood alcohol content, which is why those drivers pulled over who blow high numbers on the BAC are almost always given blood tests as well.

If the school was worried about lawsuits now, just wait until they bar some lawyer's daughter from her senior prom for blowing a .02 on a breathalyzer. Now THAT will be a fun lawsuit to watch.

Posted by kswygert at 03:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

When journal entries are illegal

Just when I think the zero tolerance policies can't get any more insane, or be applied in more abusive ways, I'm proven wrong.

Winchester police say William Poole, 18, was taken into custody Tuesday morning. Investigators say they discovered materials at Poole's home that outline possible acts of violence aimed at students, teachers, and police.

Poole told LEX 18 that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Say what?

1. It was a journal article, and a work of fiction. Can we pass a law requiring that "making a threat" involves actual contact of some kind with an intended victim?
2. It should be illegal for anyone to be held legally responsible for anything written in a journal (obviously, I say this as someone who's had her journal snooped through before).
3. "Possess matter involving a school or function"? Can someone please tell me what the heck that means?

Additional details show that the idiocy here is spread far and wide:

The arrest came after a tip from a family member that Pool was trying to "recruit a gang to take over the school," Detective Berl Perdue said. "He didn't have a gang, but he was attempting to organize one," Perdue said.

4. Don't the laws against gangster crime require that one have a gang, and commit a crime?

Police said writings in which Poole tried to persuade other students to take part in the takeover were found.

5. Did any of the other students receive these writings?

And this:

An 18-year-old junior at George Rogers Clark High School has been charged with terroristic threatening, a felony, after notes outlining possible acts of violence against students, teachers and security guards were found. No direct threats were made against named people, Winchester police Detective Steven Caudill said.

6. Once again, can we require that a terroristic threat charge involve an actual threat against an actual victim?

Morons.org calls this a "thoughtcrime," and correctly so.

(For some reason, I can't get ZeroIntelligence.net to load, but I'm sure he's all over this.)

Update: Oh, yeah, ZI has the story:

The short story did not mention Poole's school, any teachers, the principal or any cops, officials or students.

His bail was raised from one to five thousand dollars at the request of prosecutors because of the "seriousness of the crime".

There is no mention of the school itself being involved here. This madness seems to be 100% from the police.

Winchester Government contact information:
Mayor Dodd Dixon
Chief of Police W.M.Jackson II - Phone: 1-859-745-7400, Fax: 1-859-745-7404

I've noticed ZI has been including email addresses and phone numbers whenever possible in these tales of zero-tolerance madness, which is mighty useful for any concerned parents/teachers/students/bystanders who want to register their displeasure. But note also one dissenting commenter who claims this isn't the entire story, nor is the first time this student has been involved in this sort of trouble.

Posted by kswygert at 10:27 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Watch what you say

With reports like this, it's no wonder that we don't see many students blogging about the inanities of their schools:

Yvette Lacobie was steamed at one of her teachers at Bellaire High School. She felt like her Spanish teacher had been picking on her all year, and particularly so on that day. So she did what a lot of teenagers do. She vented to her friends. She went home last November 9 and got on an online chat line called Xanga, used by a lot of Asian-American kids.

In her note she called her teacher a bitch, a fat head, said she hated her, and wrote: "shez now the first person on my to kill list." She wrote it under an alias. About a month later, on December 2, Yvette was called into the principal's office. A copy of her note had been placed in the named teacher's mailbox at school. Yvette admitted writing it.

Four days later, it was official. Yvette's father, Kevin Lacobie, received a notice from assistant principal Dave DeBlasio quoting from the chat-line message and informing him that his daughter was being kicked out of school for making a terroristic threat, a Level IV offense.

It seems another student, one not getting along with Yvette, had printed up a copy of her message, embellished it a bit with a few well-placed capital letters to draw emphasis to the salient points, signed Yvette's name to it and helpfully dropped it off at school.

Yvette was sentenced to 103 days at either the privately operated alternative school CEP (Community Education Partners) or online learning at the Virtual School.

Appalling. Jim of Zero Intelligence has more:

It did not matter that Yvette posed no actual threat to the teacher, had not threatened or intimidated the teacher directly or that the comment had not been made at school but rather at an open public forum [and was doctored before being delivered to the teacher, to boot]. Yvette's cooperation with school authorities and admission of penning the note did not matter either, except to make the administration's kicking her out of school a bit easier.

What's next? Kicking kids out for criticizing what their teachers say in class? For criticizing asinine school rules? What's more, Yvette's parents had more to add to the story in the comments of ZI:

...The particular statute they accused her of, "terroristic threat" (Texas Penal Code 22.07) very clearly requires intent. We reviewed the case with a few criminal attorneys, and they immediately agreed a website posting, without additional evidence (like, say, an actual kill list, or plans, or other violent or threatening behavior), would not pass muster in the courts; probably wouldn't even pass the DA's office. So, the school administration decided to handle in "administratively", with only cursory involvement from the police.

There's a couple of other sordid facts to this story -- like the kid who submitted the anonymous letter was at the time serving probation for a Class C Misdeamonor, so was highly incentivized not to admit harmful intent (least he be hauled back into court and asked to serve something more serious than just community service!), and we had coincidently just a week prior to the incident had filed a grievance against the teacher, who has a past reputation for being vindictive to students who've complained about her behavior. Oops for us!

We presented much of this upon appeals, but unlike the court system, the appeals process in schools is often long on style, short on substance. Sigh. Our daughter wrote something in an immature way, something that we would have immediately corrected her for, and demanded apologies (which she did give to the teacher), but to criminalize it as a threat, is quite a shock. And not the America I was used to as a kid!

Posted by kswygert at 12:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 07, 2005

Booty is in the eye of the beholder

A high school junior learns the hard way that calling out for "booty" isn't acceptable unless you're a pirate:

A high school TV journalist made a bad booty call on the air. Brad Devlin, a 17-year-old junior, was recapping the girls' soccer team's 8-0 win in his daily sports report for Estero High's closed circuit TV newscast.

The script, approved by the TV production teacher, said the team really kicked some booty. But Devlin, an aspiring broadcaster, then violated the school's no ad-libbing policy by saying: "I love booty." The term "booty" technically means a pirate's treasure, but in slang also refers to a girl's backside or sex.

Devlin was called to the office and suspended for five days for what was "inappropriate comments on live school television broadcast," Assistant Principal Howard Wendland said.

I'd be tempted to file this under "Boys Will Be Boys," especially given the fact that the approved script called for an expression of "kicking booty." One of ZI's commenters notes that this is the same school that kicked an honors students out of graduation ceremonies after a kitchen knife was found in her car. So, if anyone is keeping track, Estero High students will get booted for mentioning booty, or keeping sharp booty around.

Posted by kswygert at 10:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Who's really on drugs here?

I'm sure my Devoted Readers would consider the best insanely-restrictive Zero Tolerance policy out there to be one that doesn't exist. I'd agree, except that apparently doesn't stop some schools from applying such policies:

Suspension records will be expunged for a 14-year-old girl who was removed from Mustang Middle School for possession of prescription drugs.

Chloe Smith was suspended for a year after a drug-sniffing dog found prescription hormones in her locker on Dec. 3. School officials later reduced the suspension to five days.

The American Civil Liberties Union appealed her suspension to school administrators and were preparing to appeal to the school board when the settlement was offered.

"The school has been implementing a zero-tolerance policy, but doesn't have a zero-tolerance policy," ACLU attorney Tina Izadi said Tuesday.

Emphasis mine. I suppose we can applaud the school for not actually having such a policy forbidding students to take legal, prescribed medication on campus - but not when school administrators use their "discretion" to try to suspend such students and force them into "drug counseling." Zero Intelligence has the whole sordid tale.

Posted by kswygert at 11:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

Get your foxtrot on!

Well, this is one way to stop the freakers:

Fed up with students' racy moves, a principal at a California high school has taken the unusual step of canceling the rest of this year's school dances. Principal Jim Bennett of Lemoore Union High School said he warned students at a winter formal dance last month to either quit dirty dancing or face the possibility of not dancing at all.

But he said the students continued "freak dancing," a form of sexually suggestive dancing that involves grinding the hips and pelvic area.

The ban on dances includes the school's Sadie Hawkins dance in February and the junior and senior proms in the spring, but Bennett said they could be rescheduled if students modify their behavior.

"It's really up to the kids at this point. They have to take some responsibility," Bennett said.

How 'bout Bennett sponsors a dance class during lunch, or has the students learn steps in gym? I mean, it's entirely possible that these kids really don't know any other moves that are fun yet un-dorky. Bennett could attempt to make un-freaky dancing "cool" again, which would show that he's doing his part to help solve the problem. I agree that there should be scary chaperones and tough peers to enforce the no-freak rules at dances - but it would be fair to enable kids to learn some other way to dance as well.

Posted by kswygert at 06:34 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

No comments from the peanut gallery, please

The blogosphere is all agog over the recently-released report on the disputed CBS story about President Bush’s National Guard service, which details rampant dishonesty, bias, and unprofessional behavior at the network. While the poli-bloggers focus on such petty, unimportant things, ZeroIntelligence.Net has the scoop on the real travesty facing our country today - the "ghettoization" of PB&J-eaters:

Savannah Dowling is a typical 8-year-old girl; much of her protein comes from peanut butter sandwiches. However, if she wants to bring one to Central Indiana's Pleasant View Elementary School, she has to eat it at a special table in the cafeteria to accommodate one first grader with a severe allergy. Soon she'll have to take her lunch to an area the school is calling the "peanut gallery" so the one child with the peanut allergy isn't affected.

"I don't think everybody should have to suffer because of one kid," said Mike Raper, a critic of the idea and fiancé of Savannah's mother. "I think it's a terrible precedent. Basically, because there's nowhere to draw the line. You've got people allergic to milk, wheat. My own son's diabetic. There's just no where to draw that line."

The "one kid" in question is the line, apparently - or at least, that's what his parents claim:

The boy's parents refused to be interviewed but said their child's allergy warrants extraordinary safeguards.

"He does not have to ingest it for his air to constrict and he loses the ability to breathe," the parents wrote in a statement. "We have the medical evidence that shows that our son has one of the worst allergies on record for this food."

I guess it would politically incorrect to suggest that it might be safer, you know, for this kid to sit apart from everyone else. ZeroIntelligence's response is nicer than mine:

That's a genuine shame, but so what? Reasonable measures might include notifying the teachers so they can keep an eye on what the kid tries to put in his mouth and making sure the school nurse understands the problem and has emergency treatment available. It is most definitely not reasonable to restrict the entire student body for the special needs of one student.

Be sure to read his comments, too. Many question why the child's parents are sending him to a public school in the first place. Another commenters points out that the school first banned peanut products entirely, which was not what the parents had requested be done:

The ban was started at the school of about 450 students just west of Muncie after an administrative hearing in November that involved the child's parents, state education officials and an attorney for the Mount Pleasant school district's special education cooperative...

"The compromise is what we asked for in the first place because of all the issues that go along with the peanut ban," said the father, whom the newspaper did not name. "We never asked for a complete ban."

Posted by kswygert at 03:19 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 10, 2004

Pencil sharpeners don't hurt kids; kids do

What's wrong with this picture?

Heck, what's NOT wrong with it?

PENCIL sharpeners have been banned from a primary school after a pupil dismantled one and used the blade to slash another child's neck. The victim was attacked in the playground at Waterloo Primary School in Ashton under Lyne.

He was taken to Tameside Hospital where he had butterfly stitches placed on the wound. The attacker was suspended for two days and is now back in school.

A two-day suspension for deliberately striking near someone's jugular with a razor-sharp object? And the offender is allowed to return, while the sharp objects are not? You have got to be kidding me.

...the decision to allow the boy to return to school has angered parents. Some have signed a petition calling on the school to permanently expel the youngster. One parent, who did not wish to be named, said: "Are our children safe when we send them through those gates every morning? The lad purposely took the blade out of the sharpener. In my eyes that is a pre-meditated attack. My children know the difference between right and wrong. To suspend that boy for just two days is no punishment at all."

These British parents are being too polite, and too restrained. But British school administrators appear to be just as touchy-feely and sympathetic to crime as American ones:

Tracy Buckley, the school's head of governors, has written to all parents, saying the school understood the gravity of the incident and acted accordingly.

The letter states: "The school, like every other school, has a duty to promote 'inclusion' of all pupils. The emphasis of the (DfES) guidance is that a permanent exclusion is discouraged and to be considered as a last resort in very extreme circumstances. A fixed period exclusion was entirely appropriate for the circumstances."

Good to know that deliberately slashing a child's neck is not considered "extreme" in the UK. At this point, it's obvious that the banning of the pencil sharpeners is merely a desperate measure to regain some control over a school system in which kids who have the stomach flu will miss more classes than throat-slashers will.

Posted by kswygert at 11:42 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 07, 2004

And those Shirley Temples are completely out of the question

Zero-tolerance travesties continue to move further into the land of surreality:

A Jefferson Parish fourth grader has been suspended for taking what's being described as a look-alike drug to school. Eight-year-old Kelli Billingsley brought homemade Jell-O cups to school at Boudreaux Elementary. Her mom says the school tested the Jell-O and determined it didn't have any alcohol in it. But the school suspended the girl for having a look alike drug.

The girl's mom says her daughter was just trying to make a treat for her friends.

The superintendent of Jefferson Parish schools says she will investigate the case.

Stay with me here. One possible explanation for why the school is suspending this fourth-grader (!) is because the only experience the school administrators in question have with Jell-O is through Jell-O shots. So they assumed this fourth-grader (!) must have brought an alcoholic treat to school, and they tested them. There was no alcohol in the Jell-O, of course, but the administrators assumed that non-alcoholic Jell-O was no different than, say, kids drinking water out of shot glasses, and we all know water is a lookalike drug to vodka. And that's totally against the rules. Right?

Or, it could just be that the administrators in question are totally insane. Your call.

Update: Looks like BOTH explanations may be a factor here:

The incident occurred Nov. 29, as the girl stood after classes outside Geraldine Boudreaux Elementary School in Terrytown, a New Orleans suburb. A teacher spotted liquid dripping out of the student's bookbag and found what looked like the small cups of alcohol-laced gelatin that are sold in bars, schools spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said.

The girl told the principal that her mother, who works in a bar, makes alcoholic shots at home and sells them at work. The fourth-grader said her mother had instructed her to take the shots to school and sell them, three for $1, to make some money for Christmas, Nowakowski said.

That's the part that's explained by assuming the school thought these were Jell-O shots.

The gelatin was turned over to the sheriff's department for testing to see if it contained alcohol. The girl was suspended for violating school rules against possessing or trying to distribute a "lookalike," or something that appears to contain drugs or alcohol.

Under the lookalike rule, the girl's suspension will stand no matter what the sheriff's department finds. "The school system's position is, it doesn't matter if it had alcohol in it or not," Nowakowski said.

And that's the part that's insane, because even fourth-graders know that IT DOES TOO matter if there's actually alcohol in the treats or not. If the punishment for regular Jell-O and Jell-O shots is the same, why not bring the alcoholic version? (I'm thinking of teenagers rather than fourth-graders here.) And, once again, has the school considered that water is an awfully good lookalike for vodka?

Posted by kswygert at 03:57 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

October 13, 2004

You can shoot skeet - or Rebels - but just don't let anyone know...

Oversensitive educators are no longer satisfied with mere draconian zero-tolerance rules - they want high schoolers to be recruited to break the rules for educational purposes:

A teenage Civil War buff has been suspended from school and faces serious charges after his replica musket was found in his car trunk at school in the Orange County community of Pine Bush. Joshua Phelps had been at a reenactment with his Civil War costume, including a musket last week. He threw the uniform and equipment into his truck and forgot about it. Tuesday a security guard at the Pine Bush High School saw it and called police.

Phelps was sitting in study hall when the security guard told him to go to the assistant principal. When he was told they saw the rifle he wasn't concerned, thinking they would understand it was part of his costume. But it didn't happen that way. Town of Crawford Police were called and Phelps was cuffed and charged with a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a weapon.

His mother, Valerie Michaels, is outraged, saying the school has blown this thing way out of proportion. She also says in the trunk was a costume, shoes, leather belt, powder keg, and a leather cartridge box. Phelps used the costume when taking part of the reenactment of the Battle of Chancellorville which was staged by the 124th New York State Volunteers. The reenactors say they are models of the unit that came from Orange County and fought in the Civil War. High school students were recruited to take part in the reenactors club. Phelps' mother questions why the students are given fake guns if they can be arrested for having them.

Good question. Is this not the stupidest thing you've ever heard of? It is a replica. Of a historical weapon. Which was in his car. After he partipated in a reenactment which involved high school students. Why don't schools just go ahead and ban students for even thinking about anything that might possibly, in any way, have to do with a weapon, of any kind, even if that weapon isn't real, or is used only for education or sporting events?

Oh, wait, they're already doing that:

LONDONDERRY, N.H. (AP) - The school board has voted to ban a photo of a student from the senior section of his high school yearbook because he is posed with a shotgun...

"I don't see anything wrong with the picture,'' Douglass, 17 said at the hearing. "I just want my senior picture in the yearbook.''

Last month the yearbook staff, adviser, principal and superintendent chose to bar the photo from the yearbook, saying the firearm was inappropriate.

Note the violent, filthy, murderous photo of Douglass on the CNN page. Also note that the school had already confiscated Douglass' gun enthusiast magazines.

Joanne Jacobs believes schools should have the right to ban whatever they consider inappropriate when it comes to senior photos - but we also have the right to mock them for being so terrified and ignorant of weaponry that the mere suggestion of it is enough to send them into a panic. Maybe Ms. Sousa's daughter could transfer to Londonderry High.

Posted by kswygert at 03:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2004

And cut out those "shenanigans," too

The Brits have a better way with words. While we drone on about "sexual harassment" and "zero tolerance" in school, they just inform their students, "No canoodling on campus":

Eight pupils at a Wiltshire secondary school have been suspended after protesting against a ban on "canoodling".

Children at Warneford School in Highworth, were told they were not allowed to kiss, hold hands or hug. Several refused to return to classes last Friday lunchtime in protest [other news reports put the number at 200], and held a rally in the playing field.

Headmaster John Saunders said the eight were suspended for being rude to staff and not because they contravened the "canoodling" rule. He said the ban was aimed at instilling "appropriate behaviour" in pupils. "We were reminding the pupils of a rule that already exists. It was fairly light-hearted," said Mr Saunders.

"We have a school council through which the pupils can express their views, but on this occasion they chose to make a protest in a different way."

The school has around 900 pupils aged between 11 and 16.

A school is within its rights to forbid affectionate physical behavior on school grounds, although suspending students for holding hands is a bit much. If you refuse to go to class, for any reason, you pretty much open yourself up to punishment.

And in the South, we call it "kadoodling" instead.

More here:

The protest came after head teacher John Saunders launched a crackdown on kissing, cuddling and holding hands at Highworth Warneford, a mixed comprehensive in Swindon, Wilts.

He wants to end "inappropriate behaviour" at the 900-pupil school, which achieved record GCSE results this summer. But Kim Cullinane, 15, said students intend to petition school governors. She said: "I admit kissing in school is not appropriate but saying we can't touch each other is too much. At 16 you can get married. There is a lot of anger about it."

The marriage age is irrelevant. Just because I'm more than old enough to get married (heh) doesn't mean I could canoodle with my fiance at work if we were both employed by the same company. But I digress.

Fellow pupil Lorna Averies and her boyfriend Alex Apps, both 13, also called the ban on smooching "unfair". Lorna said: "I can understand them not allowing it in lessons but what's wrong with kissing someone at playtime? Maybe the teachers don't want us to have any fun."

And another pupil, Lucy Gray, 15, claimed: "One of my friends was told off for touching a mate."

But some parents have backed the ban and father-of-two Rafu Mirh, 45, said: "It's perfectly reasonable that there is no touching. We have so many under-age pregnancies. They need more discipline."

Some other parents disagree:

However, one mother, Mandy Gray, 38, said: "Touching and kissing has been going on for years. They are never going to stop the kids doing that. The staff should concentrate on teaching. There are plenty of worse things like drugs and smoking which they should worry about."

Yes, but if the school tried to ban smoking, it's just as easy to say, "Smoking has been going on for years. They are never going to stop the kids doing that. The staff should concentrate on teaching. There are plenty of worse things..." and so on. Again, I don't think the school is out of line here in trying to enforce appropriate public behavior (if the punishment for infractions is appropriate). I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that school rules affect teenage pregnancy rates, but attitudes like "They're never going to stop kids from fooling around" certainly do.

Posted by kswygert at 03:48 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 23, 2004

Everybody's at fault

I feel sorry for this grandmother, but I also think she's fooling herself about the "goodness" of her kid:

Two boys in his 4th grade class kept "messing" with him, the boy said, so when his older brother gave him a stolen 9 mm pellet gun, he stuffed it into a book bag and took it to his Sauk Village elementary school. "They kept saying they wanted to fight me," the 9-year-old said as he sat on his grandmother's couch in a red basketball jersey and black sneakers. "I told the teacher three times, and she didn't do anything."

The gun was discovered after a teacher caught him playing with BB-gun pellets during math class, the boy said. She turned him over to the dean at Strassburg Elementary School, who asked if he also had a gun.

"I said, 'I'll be honest,' so I said 'yes,'" the youth said. He was expelled from school for two years after the March 2 incident. Now his grandmother, Sheila Howard, 53, of the 2100 block of 221st Street in Sauk Village, is suing the school for depriving her grandson of the right to an education.

"They told me they've got a no-nonsense, no-tolerance law, and that's it," Howard said. "I couldn't understand that. How could they do that to a kid?"

He is a "good kid," Howard said. "The most trouble he caused--when you asked him to do something, it would take him all day."

Well, he managed to put that gun in his backpack pretty darn quickly, didn't he? I mean, the grandmother should be mad that the teachers didn't do anything, but the kid brought a gun to school - given to him by his older brother, no less - for the purpose of intimidating (at the very least) another kid. Does the grandmother really want to teach the kid that he is the innocent victim in this situation?

I do believe the kid is in some way the victim here, but mainly of his grandmother, who doesn't seem to be worried that he is getting guns from older siblings and is already, at age 9, looking at a gun as a problem-solver.

Posted by kswygert at 02:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 27, 2004

Suspended from school for crossing against the light

Okay, there has GOT to be more to this story. Surely, even in Canadian schools, principals have more important things to think about than whether students cross against the light:

A Grade 12 student at Anderson Collegiate was given a one-day suspension by the vice-principal for allegedly jaywalking after school.

Kelly Simo, 17, said the streetlights at Anderson and Crawforth streets, a block north of the school, were yellow and then turned red when she was halfway through the intersection as she walked home Feb. 4.

"The next morning when I went to school, she called me down to the office...and (said), 'I have to suspend you for jaywalking,'" Kelly said, adding vice principal Pauline Langmaid insisted the light was red when she went across the street. She was told to stay home on Friday, Feb. 6. She complied with the suspension, but her mother is battling the school over what she calls a "ludicrous" decision.

I'm not Canadian, but I have to say - EH? How the fark did the school even KNOW that Ms. Simo jaywalked? She wasn't given a ticket, so the police weren't involved. Did a crossing guard rat her out? And why should the school care?

Ms. Simo's mom was pretty pointed in her rejoinder to the principal:

Jackie Simo, the girl's mother, said Ms. Langmaid told her it was a "safety issue" and the school would have to set an example for its junior students.

"I said, 'You've got to be kidding. There are kids in (schools) with drugs, weapons, alcohol, violence...but you're suspending her because she crossed the light?' said Ms. Simo.

"What I was told was the school day does not end until my daughter is in the house. I laughed and said, 'So if my daughter gets hit by a car, is mugged, raped...assaulted, is the school going to accept responsibility because she has not walked in (my) door?'"

"What I was told was, 'Let's not get carried away...'

Yes, let's not. That means not issuing suspensions for jaywalking, for heaven's sakes. I mean, in some cities (NYC, I'm thinking of you here), jaywalking is an art. Why shouldn't students be able to get in on the fun?

Plus, it's just creepy that a school administrator would say, "the school day does not end" until the students actually reach home. That's not comforting, unless you thought 1984 was a really fun book.

(Thanks to Devoted Reader Greg M. for the link.)

Posted by kswygert at 07:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 27, 2004

Well, I guess you could argue her burning hair was disrupting the class...

Can we get a little zero tolerance here, please?

A 13-year-old Denver girl said she was threatened with a knife at her middle school and her hair was set on fire, yet she was the one who was told to stay home for the remainder of the school year while her alleged attacker wasn't suspended or even investigated.

Courtney Glowczewski has a small right arm and leg because of cerebral palsy, a disability that her teachers say has not kept her from working hard in school and being a good student...But her physical appearance has made her a target of taunting and of physical attack, which she said has never been addressed by the administration at Martin Luther King Middle School. Last week, she said the bullying got worse when she said she was threatened and assaulted by a seventh grade boy.

"He pulled out a knife, a silver knife, a pocket knife, and then he said 'What!?' So I was scared and didn't know what to do," said Glowczewski.

As she walked to her seat she smelled smoke and one of her classmates was patting her hard on the back.

"I looked and there was a black spot on the back of my shirt. And then I saw some black hair falling from my hair," said Glowczewski. Her hair was on fire and the other student said that she was trying to help put it out.

Her mother, Sherrie, was called to school when her daughter reported the incident to the assistant principal. Sherrie Glowczewski was outraged when she was told by the administration at Martin Luther King that her daughter didn't need to come back and not to worry about the tests...

7NEWS discovered that while Glowczewski was sent home, her alleged attacker is still in school, even though administrators confirmed he had a knife.

The interim principal is "admitting mistakes." Imagine my surprise.

I'm sensing a pattern here. Have a weapon anywhere on your body, in your locker, or in your car, and you're out of school for good. But actually use the weapon, and the school will just freak out and send the victim home (the better to distance themselves from lawsuits). My, what a great message this sends to miscreants and concerned parents everywhere.

I can already predict the advice half of my readers will give to Ms. Glowczewski: "Homeschool!" And they'd be right.

(Thanks to Devoted Reader and mathematical genius Mike McKeown for the link.)

Update: More than one blogger was outraged by this story; Jim Peacock did something about it.

I sent an email to Mark Stevens, Director of Public Information for Denver Public Schools, and received a response yesterday. Reviewing the post and comments at WizBang shows that it is a form response. Still, it is more than I expected and it appears that the school is now working in good faith to correct the situation.

Posted by kswygert at 10:10 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 05, 2004

The climate of fear and sexually-charged tag

Jim at ZeroIntelligence has a long report on the despots of the Katy (TX) Unified School District:

Katy ISD has a reputation for excellence and a get-tough approach to discipline. That tough discipline is changing the spirit of excellence to one of fear.

Alyssa Nemec went to the gym one morning to join some friends. She took a sip of an offered soda and then discovered it had alcohol in it. She left immediately. Later that day she was called to the office where she did her best to help them get to the bottom of the situation. Once she admitted to taking a drink of the soda her help was no longer needed. Alyssa was suspended and then sentenced to 60 days of alternative education. She was not permitted to participate in scholastic functions including her own cheerleading or watching her brother's senior year of football. She received the same punishment that the student who brought in the alcohol received.

There's more, unfortunately; the zero-tolerance rules in place mean that parents who do the right thing and report small infractions see their kids given big-time punishments.

And then there are the questionable punishments for he-said/she-said infractions (from Best of the Web):

The father of a nine-year-old Ansonia [CT] boy is questioning his son's three-day school suspension from school. Jason Pardy says the suspension for inappropriate touching was too harsh. He says his son accidentally brushed a girl's backside during a game of tag.

However, school officials say the incident was thoroughly investigated and the penalty fits the offense. Pardy says his son, a third-grader, was playing tag with a girl last Friday when he accidentally grazed her buttocks with his hand while tagging her. The girl later told teachers the boy had grabbed her backside.

Unless this "thorough investigation" had an adult witness or the act on videotape, I find it hard to believe that the school did anything other than take the girl's complaint at face value while ignoring the boy's rebuttal (pun intended). I suppose the next step will be to outlaw tag altogether; after all, when kids are running and poking each other at high speed, is is reasonable to suspend every kid who accidently touches the wrong spot?

Posted by kswygert at 02:26 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 31, 2004

Twinkle, twinkle, little nose

Okay, this is just silly:

A middle school student has been suspended because she is wearing a small diamond stud in her nose, which the principal says is distracting.

Tori Swanson, 12, is serving a three-day suspension for wearing the stud to Bailey Middle School and it will be renewed every time the sixth grader shows up with it, Principal Judy Pippen said.

Pippen said facial piercings distract other students and could hurt their performance on the state's standardized test.

Let it be known that I have no problem with schools enforcing dress codes and jewelry codes, but it's ridiculous to claim that one little nose bauble will cause other students to turf on the FCAT.

Posted by kswygert at 01:39 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 08, 2004

When anti-drug rules give you a headache

ZeroIntelligence.net (love the new design, btw) reports that a Louisiana 10th-grader has been expelled for a year from Parkway High School for having OTC ibuprofen in her purse. This apparently violated the school's "tough-antidrug rules."

What I particularly enjoy about this article is that it segues directly from the student's common-sense defense...

Amanda, 14, said she carried the tablets to treat headaches.

“I think we’re old enough to know how many we can take without overdosing or being in danger,” she said.

...to this summary of the horrific drug raid at Goose Creek High School:

Last month armed police stormed a high school in South Carolina and ordered children to the floor at gunpoint so they could conduct a drugs search. Officers ran into Stratford High School in Goose Creek, screaming at pupils to lie face down, before rifling through their bags.

Students who did not do as they were told were handcuffed.

Parents were outraged at the raid, but principal George McCrackin said he would “utilise whatever forces that I deem necessary” to keep drugs out of the school.

No drugs were found in the raid.

The obvious conclusion for the reader is to draw a connection between McCrackin's insane police action and Parkway High School’s insane anti-drug rules. The two occurences differ only in degree, not in kind.

Posted by kswygert at 03:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 04, 2004

Don't run from scissors

ZeroIntelligence and MyShortPencil are all over this one - there's not much I can add.

The only saving grace is that this particular tale of zero-tolerance idiocy is featured in an article entitled, "Have Zero Tolerance Policies Gone Too Far?" The fact that the mainstream media are just now asking this question is a reminder of how far behind they curve they are from the bloggers who have been highlighting such idiocies for quite some time.

The story:

Jacob Finklea, 12, was expelled for bringing scissors to his sewing class at Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township.

"I put them on the desk because she said, 'Get all your supplies ready to make the pillows,' and I put the scissors on the desk and she just freaked out," Jacob said.

Jacob's mother, Chrystal Finklea, is upset with the school rules that say scissors are a weapon requiring up to a two-semester expulsion.

"They were making pillows and the scissors he had hurt his hands. So when he went back to school he took my sewing scissors to school so he could finish making his pillow," Finklea said. "It's been a complete nightmare, It's been a nightmare for both of us."

From ZeroIntelligence:

Scissors, in Home Economics class, are a weapon and possession of them requires expulsion? We've gone from "Don't run with scissors in your hand" to "You can't come to school if you use scissors". Scissors are not a weapon. They are a tool, just like a chair or a pencil or a pointer or the cord from the window blinds. All of them have proper uses and all of them can be used to hurt another person. In fact, can you think of any common scholastic item that can't be used to hurt somebody?

And MyShortPencil chimed in with:

Ohh! Yess! Any student who brings scissors to sewing class is making a desperate plea for help. His life must be in such turmoil from all the planning, reasoning and logical thinking done to smuggle scissors into sewing class! It's a warning sign of another Columbine massacre.

Call the counselors! Call the police! Somebody take 27 8x10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one is to be used as evidence against Jacob. This kid might be a mother-stabber. A father-raper! He might even be a litterer!...

There aren't enough counselors in America to help students survive the mental torment and idiocy inflicted by master-degreed professionals who only care about students.

To expel a student for having scissors in sewing class is nothing less than bullying.

The teacher should be disciplined, at the very least, for "freaking out" at the image of a pair of sewing scissors in a sewing class. Regardless of whether she was following school rules by reporting Jacob, she obviously doesn't have the intelligence to understand the context in which the scissors were introduced, and I wouldn't trust her to teach anything, even sewing skills.

Oh, and MyShortPencil links to some nifty things, like this "Students Right to Remain Silent" card.

Posted by kswygert at 03:56 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 24, 2004

Pot-planting principal should be a perp

When a principal shows up on The Smoking Gun, it's never pretty. I just can't improve on their summary of the hapless pot-planting principal:

Here's a bit of advice for high school administrators everywhere: If a drug-sniffing police dog somehow misses the pot you planted in a troublemaker's locker, just let it go. Patrick Conroy, however, felt the need to tell Michigan cops about his harebrained attempt to frame a student he believed was selling drugs at L.C. Mohr High School.

Conroy, who resigned his assistant principal's post Friday when the Herald-Palladium reported on his scheme, last month laughingly told a K-9 cop about planting the pot, according to the below South Haven Police Department reports. Saying, "I know this isn't or wasn't ethical," Conroy, 52, told the cop he put the baggie of marijuana in the student's locker since "we both know he is dealing drugs, and I wanted to catch him so I put drugs in the locker."

The dog, named Herbie, did not cooperate, however, failing to detect the weed. For his part, Conroy repeatedly steered the K-9 team past the bank of lockers, to no avail. Conroy is now the subject of a criminal probe.

Conroy's local newspaper, the Herald-Palladium, has more juicy details, and has been bombarding Conroy with phone calls, to no avail:

Conroy told police he had been collecting the drugs, which he said had been confiscated from students, ever since he came to the high school as assistant principal in August 1999. He claimed he kept the drugs in his office so he could bring them to school board student expulsion hearings to show as evidence if necessary.

But school board President Ed Bocock, who has been on the board since Conroy joined the district staff, said he never saw drugs displayed at any student expulsion hearing he attended.

"I don't recall seeing that," Bocock said. "Those drugs are supposed to be given to the police."

Meanwhile, the school board may set a special meeting soon to consider additional disciplinary action against Conroy, Bocock said Thursday night.

Herald-Palladium attempts to telephone Conroy at home on Wednesday and Thursday were unsuccessful.

I'll bet. Not only did he try to frame a student, but he's been illegally hoarding drugs in his office for five years. That police dog needs to be retired; his nose should have exploded when he came anywhere near Conroy.

As Best of the Web notes, there's a hilariously-supportive letter by one Abby N. , on the website of an nearby highschool newspaper:

Many students have taken notice that Mr. Conroy is not at school. Rumors of drugs, sex, and violence have been flung through the air all week long. Many students have been questioning what’s happened. According to Mr. Hadden, he is on leave with pay, and the reason has nothing to do with sex, drugs or violence. The press release that was given to teachers stated the reason is procedural, administrative...

He admits to having drugs on campus and then using them to frame a student and he gets put on leave with pay?!?

Many students have made wild accusations; saying that Mr. Conroy was arrested and even some parents claimed the he was in jail. Mr. Conroy has not been arrested and he has not done anything illegal.

Bullspit, honey. It was illegal for him not to call officials and surrender any drugs that he confiscated from students. As the Herald-Palladium noted:

South Haven Police Chief Rod Somerlott said earlier that when drugs are confiscated from a student, by law police must be contacted immediately to pick up and dispose of the illegal substances.

Mr. Conroy has been a great help to this school over the years...

Mr. Conroy was gold in a school full of nickel and his absence has left a void in both the school and in the hearts of many students...

I can't improve on BotW's rejoinder - "He was gold, all right--Acapulco gold."

And what does that say about the rest of the school administrators and teachers, if they are "nickel" to Conroy's "gold"? Do you think they should feel good about Abby's comment?

Posted by kswygert at 05:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The punishment doesn't fit, but the bathing suits sure do

Sixth-grader Justin Reyes is on a three-day suspension for bringing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to school. The alternative punishment was two days at an "alternative school" full of miscreants; Justin's mother rejected that punishment.

Any administrator with any sense would have just confiscated the silly magazine, which is inappropriate for a sixth-grader but hardly worthy of punishment. (Except for, maybe, being locked in a classroom for an hour with a teacher who minored in Women's Studies in college; the resulting lecture on objectification would be punishment enough.)

Then again, any administrator with any sense would not, as Superintendent Tim Swarr did, admit to not ever having seen the swimsuit issue that SI publishes each year. That makes him sound awfully naive.

(Found via Sharkblog).

Posted by kswygert at 04:12 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 27, 2004

Fear of a tiny gun

This adds new meaning to the old phrase, reductio ad absurdum:

Terry Wilson-Spence thinks administrators at Spokane Public Schools may have jumped the gun when it comes to her 8-year-old son. The third-grader, along with two other boys, was suspended Friday from Bemiss Elementary School for bringing toy guns to the northeast Spokane school.

But, according to Wilson-Spence, the toy guns her son carried in his pocket were for GI Joe action figures. The guns are from only 1 inch to 3 inches long -- half the size of a pencil.

Emphasis mine. This is the logical conclusion - to the absurd - of hysterical rules that ban all weapons, regardless of the type of "weapon" is it, or whether you have to be an 11-and-a-half-inch doll in order to use it.

...the school district is standing by its zero-tolerance policy on weapons, which doesn't specify size or type, school officials said.

"We've been very clear with our students and parents that you don't bring anything that resembles a gun to school," said Bemiss Principal Lorna Spear.

"At school you don't need anything that's going to make kids feel unsafe."

I'd take my kids out a school if the principal was unable to make them feel safe when confronted with GI Joe and his military pals. It seems the suspended boys were playing with the tiny toys - and that IS all they are, tiny toys - at lunchtime and allegedly making "threatening actions while playing with the toys."

I assume this means they were pointing the toys at other kids and going, "Bang bang." That's when a principal with any sense would tell them to put the toys away and give them a lecture on playfighting in school. You see, it was the boy's actions here that were probably rude and intrusive, not their possessions, and while the other students may have felt nervous, they were in fact in no danger from them at any time.

Suspending these kids on a "weapons" charge sends the message that it's the "weapon", not the behavior, that's the problem, and it also sends the message that these kids are a danger to others, when they weren't. So it's the wrong decision on two counts, and the school administrators look like fools for standing behind this policy.

Sadly, they're fools with a precedent:

This is not the first time miniature weaponry has gotten a Washington student in trouble.

The Seattle School District suspended a 10-year-old boy in 1997 for bringing a replica of an Army-issue handgun to school. That inch-long plastic gun also belonged to G.I. Joe, an action figure that's been a favorite of boys since 1964.

Does anyone else here suspect that the G.I. Joe action figures are feared and hated by Washington's educrats? Not politically correct enough, I suppose. If Barbie came with a pink rifle, would that be okay?

Posted by kswygert at 11:46 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 09, 2004

Hey! Has she ever taken a networking class?

Best of the Web isn't letting up on the story of Carl Grimmer vs. pompous computer "teacher" Beverly Sweeney. First up, quotes from an email the BOtW received from reader and comp sci teacher T.J. Miller:

In the interest of brevity, what kind of incompetence dictates that a school computer science class leave its workstations so wide open to the school network? As a basic standard, I have my classroom network tightly controlled with both proxy and firewall servers (old Linux-based computers, so they cost approximately $0) betwixt classroom and school network, so that any experiments gone awry (or any boneheaded actual hacking attempts) get stopped cold before even leaving the classroom.

Personally, and this is merely the humble opinion of a computer science teacher who has "real world" real-world experience as a systems administrator: if anyone is at fault here, it is either the school network admin, or the computer science teacher who was too ignorant of actual networking to prevent something so easily preventable.

And why would we assume Ms. Sweeney is ignorant of networking? Could it be, as her webpage points out, that none of her degrees are in computer science? Her certifications are listed as being in "Web Design, Digital Graphics, Desktop Publishing, Video Production, and Multimedia," which suggests that she knows how to use a lot of graphics software, but not that she knows anything about how computer programs and computer networks actually work.

BOtW just doesn't let up:

But here's something really chilling. Scroll down further, below the bio, and you find a shockingly violent image: a "cartoon" of a poorly dressed man smashing a computer terminal with a spiked club. Below it is the caption "Sometimes this is how we feel!!!"

In this post-Columbine age, it is appalling that an adult in a position of responsibility would encourage impressionable children to solve their problems with violence. Oh sure, maybe today they're just smashing computers, but who's to say they won't be beating the dog tomorrow or shooting up the school the day after? We certainly hope the Birdville School District will take swift disciplinary action against Ms. Sweeney for this shocking abuse of authority.

Posted by kswygert at 04:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Finally, a little litigant I can support

Early last year, I wasn't blogging about any zero-tolerance scandals on N2P; hence, I missed this story about Alan Newsom, the 12-year-old sixth-grader at Jack Jouett Middle School, in Albermarle County, Virginia. Why blog about him now?

Well, Dave Kopel of National Review Online summarizes the events of last April:

Alan Newsom was a sixth-grader at Jack Jouett Middle School, in Albermarle County, Virginia. In April 2002, he was having lunch in the cafeteria, wearing a T-shirt bearing the words "NRA Shooting Sports Camp." The T-shirt showed three silhouettes of men aiming their firearms — one each for rifle, shotgun, and pistol, the three broad categories of the shooting sports.

An assistant principal noticed the shirt, and felt reminded of Columbine, since both the T-shirt and Columbine involved "sharpshooters"...

The assistant principal ordered Newsom to remove the T-shirt, or turn it inside out. She told him that the T-shirt was inappropriate because it had "pictures of men shooting guns." She threatened Newsom with suspension if he refused to comply.

Newsom's parents contacted the NRA, and NRA staff attorney Daniel Zavadil took their case at no charge.

And guess what? There was nothing in the dress code banning guns or other weapons on t-shirts - but the school quickly tried to fix that. Problem is, they "fixed" it by instituting a laughable ban on any images of weaponry, and their hasty manuevers didn't sit too well in court:

In the case of Newsom v. Albermarle County School Board the Fourth Circuit ruled 3-0 in favor of a public-school student's First Amendment right to wear a shirt from an NRA shooting-sports camp. The unanimous panel rejected the school's preposterous argument that banning the shirt was necessary for school safety...

The school soon discovered [after the threat of suspension was made] that Newsom's shirt was entirely legal under the school's existing dress code, which banned messages on clothing which related to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, or vulgarity, or which "reflected adversely" on a person's race or ethnicity. So the school added a dress-code amendment which banned "messages on clothing, jewelry, and personal belongings that relate to...weapons." The NRA filed suit on Newsom's behalf in September 2002, after the school refused to stop its unconstitutional suppression of student speech.

In December 2002, the federal district court for the western district of Virginia denied Newsom's motion for a preliminary injunction (an order for the school to respect his free speech rights, pending final resolution of the case). Newsom appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court, and on December 1, 2003, ruled 3-0 that Newsom was entitled to a preliminary injunction...

The school district essentially tried to turn the clock back to before the civil-rights era. It argued that the T-shirt was conduct, not speech, and therefore not entitled to any First Amendment protection. But several cases, including Tinker, have recognized that messages can be communicated through clothing; Tinker, after all, involved black arm bands with no words.

The school district alleged that the NRA shooting-sports camp T-shirt was disruptive, although there was no evidence to support the claim. Apparently the only person at the school who felt disturbed by seeing the T-shirt in April 2002 was the prejudiced assistant principal...

Supposedly, only the image (shown here) was the problem, but the school's reaction to an NRA offer belies that theory:

Actually, at the district-court level, the school's attorney had told the court that the only problem with the T-shirt was the picture, not the words. The NRA immediately offered to settle the case, if the school would certify that students could wear words-only NRA clothing that did not depict gun use. The school district refused. Clearly the school's aim was to prevent a student from even wearing a lapel pin with the words "National Rifle Association."

Pah. If Newsom's t-shirt was offensive or damaging to other students, then so is this. And a t-shirt with the State Seal of Virginia on it, or a photo of the mascot of the high school directly across the street from Jack Jouett Middle School, would be as well.

The Volokh Conspiracy is happy with the ruling, and quotes two paragraphs from the court ruling that reveal the school's hasty ban on weapon imagery for the waste of time that it is:

Turning to the language of the 2002-2003 Jouett Dress Code [which bans "messages on clothing, jewelry, and personal belongings that relate to . . . weapons"], when we examine the code in view of the fact that there was no evidence presented at the preliminary injunction stage of the case demonstrating that clothing worn by students at Jouett containing messages related to weapons, nonviolent, nonthreatening, or otherwise, ever substantially disrupted school operations or interfered with the rights of others, the 2002-2003 Jouett Dress Code can be understood as reaching lawful, nonviolent, and nonthreatening symbols of not only popular, but important organizations and ideals. For example, the State Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia depicts a woman standing with one foot on the chest of a vanquished tyrant, holding a spear. The symbol obviously depicts a woman holding a weapon. Thus, under the 2002-2003 Jouett Dress Code, a student may not wear or carry any items bearing the State Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Likewise, the symbol of the University of Virginia’s athletic mascot -- the Cavalier -- is two crossed sabers. This symbol also relates to weapons. According to the Virginia Attorney General, the symbol is used throughout Charlottesville to direct visitors to the university’s football stadium and other facilities and simply to promote the university’s athletics. Ironically, Albemarle County High School, which is located across the street from Jack Jouett Middle School, uses the image of a patriot armed with a musket as its own mascot. Various clothing depicting support for the University of Virginia and Albemarle County High School by way of the schools’ mascots would be banned under the 2002-2003 Jouett Dress Code.

Aside from these non-controversial symbols, the 2002-2003 Jouett Dress Code would apparently distinguish between a t-shirt bearing a peace sign and the message "No War" and one with a picture of an army tank in desert camouflage that urges support for our troops. Similarly, it would prevent a student from wearing a t-shirt bearing the insignia of many of the fighting units engaged in overseas operations in which parents or siblings may serve. Banning support for or affiliation with the myriad of organizations and institutions that include weapons (displayed in a nonviolent and nonthreatening manner) in their insignia can hardly be deemed reasonably related to the maintenance of a safe or distraction-free school. Finally, the quintessential political message the school here is trying to promote -- "Guns and School Don’t Mix" -- would, under a reasonable interpretation, be prohibited on clothing under the 2002-2003 Jouett Dress Code.

Bottom line? A black eye for the school, and a victory for the kid and the NRA. And, I hope, a lesson in constitutional law for that hapless assistant principal.

Posted by kswygert at 02:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 08, 2004

Hey! What's the big idea?

Oh, my. Best of the Web has uncovered a truly ridiculous application of "zero-tolerance" ; a 13-year-old student who used a DOS function to send the message, "Hey!" to every computer in his school has been suspended for three days, despite the fact that there was no rule against this behavior:

Carl Grimmer's father taught him how to send messages through network computers as part of a tutorial on how DOS worked...I guess it's only natural that the next day, Carl went to school and in his eighth-grade computer class showed a friend how the messaging system worked. That's what learning and experimenting is all about. I think that's what school is about.

The result of his trick was that every computer in the school, approximately 80 of them, received his message of "Hey!"

At first, Principal Tommy Rollins didn't think much of it. "I saw it," he said. "It didn't say who it came from. I just deleted it."

Beverly Sweeney, a computer teacher and campus computer liaison with the district, entered Carl's computer class and quickly figured out where the message originated and who sent it.

According to Carl, Sweeney asked him, "Did you do this?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Do you know that this is serious?" she asked him, according to Carl.

"No," he replied.

Then she asked how he did it, and he showed her.

The matter worked its way up to the principal, who eventually suspended Carl for three days.

Rollins told me that students had been using campus computers in unacceptable ways, and he hoped to make an example of Carl. The Birdville school district does not have a written policy on what to do in this kind of situation, so the decision rested with the principal.

First off, what's the crime here, other than the fact that the school's own computer teacher was unfamiliar with DOS functionality? Apparently, no one other than this teacher complained, and it's hard to see how her reaction is anything other than a defensive reaction against a student who had learned some computer skills on his own time.

Columnist Dave Lieber has more, though - MUCH more:

Carl did not send out a dirty word. Carl received no warning. No written policy prohibits what he did. Missing three days of school for something so minor is overkill.

But what I find more offensive is the unsolicited explanation I received from campus computer liaison Sweeney after I made my initial telephone call to Birdville district spokesman Mark Thomas to inquire about Carl's suspension.

Because Sweeney wrote her e-mail using her taxpayer-funded district e-mail account, it is a public document, and therefore, I quote it in full so we can all share insight into the mind of one of the educators who busted Carl for writing "Hey!"

She wrote: "Mr. Lieber, I want to communicate to you my concerns about some of the 'reporting' done by [the] Star-Telegram and my concern about an article I have heard you might be writing. Too often, people who do not know the real world of public education feel that they are the 'experts' who have all the solutions and that their opinions are as valuable as those who live in this world daily.

"If you comment upon events that are reported to you by a parent and do not fully investigate those reports before you publish your article, then you are one of those people. I have not heard that you have attempted to contact those people who really know the situation.

"I am speaking about one incident in the Birdville School District in which a student was expelled [sic] for tampering with the district's computers. Having been a computer teacher in the real world of public education for many years, let me say that suspension of students who are guilty of such tampering sends a message to all students that is beneficial and necessary.

"Students should not be of the opinion that it is acceptable to abuse the privileges that are afforded them by the taxpayers. If they are allowed to experiment and do things on the computers that the teachers have not specifically given them permission to do, we would never get any computer education accomplished.

"Hacking into a system should be highest on the list of tampering violations. I believe the other students are now aware that the district takes this seriously and will not tolerate such misuse of our equipment.

"I invite you, parents, our state representatives, and anyone else that thinks they know how a teacher or a district should react to ANY situation to come live with us for a while -- be a substitute teacher for a few weeks and learn the real world of public education.

"Beverly Sweeney."

Dave is utterly appalled by this email, as am I.

The first problem here is that Sweeney, a computer teacher, apparently doesn't understand the term hacking. Hacking is not using a built-in command to send a message. Hacking is defined in two general ways: 1) use of a computer to break into someone else's computer system, and 2) the sophisticated techniques used by an adept computer programmer.

But more troubling is the notion that Sweeney does not believe that the rest of us have any right to question the decisions made by public educators.

Remember, we pay the salaries of the teachers and staff. We buy the computers. We pay for the buildings in which they are used. As long as public school is public, the Beverly Sweeneys of the world need to know that it is our right and duty to look over their shoulders and question what they do.

In this case, the punishment of Carl Grimmer was overkill, but the response of the school's computer liaison shows that public education really does demand greater oversight from us outsiders, certainly not less.

Amen. Ms. Sweeney's demand for Carl's suspension and her comparison of his behavior to hacking demonstrates a profound ignorance of computers and how children learn to use them. What's more, it's absolutely the case that the opinions of the parents (and journalists) who pay taxes to the public schools "are as valuable as those who live in this world daily." The display of ignorance and haughty condescension here is most unbecoming in an educator.

Best of the Web concludes:

The real question though, is whether all the grown-ups at Richland Middle School are as comically self-serious as Beverly Sweeney. If so, it's no wonder they have a discipline problem. Even 13-year-olds could not possibly respect anyone so ridiculous.

Posted by kswygert at 03:34 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

Teenage girls: The real threat to public education

Look, let's stop the lie that "zero tolerance" rules are meant to combat on-campus use of such damaging drugs as heroin and meth, okay? Let's all just be honest about the fact that what school administrators really want to accomplish with these rules is to punish all those pesky teenage girls and their stashes of legal, OTC pain medication.

No? You say that wasn't the intent? Then why do I keep reading stories like this?

Taking ibuprofen for cramps landed a Clay-Chalkville High sophomore with a suspension and a month's mandatory attendance at alternative school.

Ysatis Jones, 15, took a Motrin pill on Dec. 3 after requesting to be excused for the restroom. She said she was too embarrassed to ask her male drivers' education teacher if she could visit the main office to take medicine for menstrual pain.

A teacher saw her swallow the pill at a water fountain and reported her.

The Jefferson County school board prohibits students from possessing any prescription or over-the-counter medication without signed administrative permission. The student code of conduct classifies violations as a major drug offense.

You got that? Major drug offense. Ysatis is no different from the stoners who get high before school. The fact that she happens to be breaking no laws and had a legitimate need for legal medication is of no concern to the Jefferson County school board. They can make no distinction between Ysatis and the illegal drug users; they admit as much:

"The big concern we have is that it may be fine for one student to take over-the-counter medication, but what if he or she gives it to another student and they have an allergic reaction," [Clay-Chalkville Principal Randle] Cassady asked. "That is where the liability comes in with us."

Nez Calhoun, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County school system, said she understands the mother's concern...

"It is harsh. I will admit that," Calhoun said. "If we don't have consequences for aberrations of the rule, then we never will get a handle on drugs in the school."

So it's not enough to punish kids for using illegal drugs; the school must also make sure that students are punished for legal drugs, because, in some alternate universe, the punishment is supposed to fit not only the crime but also aberrations of the crime. Also in this alternate universe, punishing the kids who use OTC medication somehow stops the flow of illegal drugs onto campus.

My question is, if the punishment for using Motrin and using meth are the same, why expect a student to choose Motrin? Heck, if I knew back in high school that I'd get the same punishment for choosing Midol, muscle relaxants, or heroin for my severe cramps, I'd've been seriously tempted to go with whatever was most available and most effective at the time.

Ysatis's mom is refusing to send her child to the alternate school, and I don't blame her:

At the alternative school, her child would be physically searched each morning and placed with children who committed offenses such as battery, arson and possessing illegal drugs. Jones wants her daughter to avoid such an environment and maintain a positive attitude about school.

So, continuing on in this alternate universe, the way to deal with kids who use legal drugs in a responsible way is to treat them like inmates and isolate them in classrooms with students who are known to batter one another and abuse illegal drugs. Riiiiight.

The furor over the recent Advil expulsion might prompt that Louisiana school board to re-think its drug policy; perhaps the parents of Ysatis's classmates will understand that, unless they speak up, their child is next.

Posted by kswygert at 04:28 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

Where hickeys are assualts and pototoes come garnished with marijuana

As if the Advil tale wasn't bad enough, here are additional tales of woe that Best of the Web had for today's zero tolerance roundup:

A 13-year-old boy has been charged with assault for "giving [a] girl a hickey in a Richland Middle School hallway in September," the Associated Press reports from Fort Worth, Texas. But it looks as though he'll escape prosecution:
------------
The boy said Wednesday he planned to read the letter of apology that he has given to the girl in front of the class today. The boy said he has learned his lesson.

"Don't mess with anybody if they don't want you to mess with them, and don't touch anybody inappropriately," he said.
------------
Meanwhile in Georgia, three students at Conyers Middle School--two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old--"have been accused of violating the state Controlled Substances Act after a plastic bag filled with parsley was found at the school," another AP dispatch reports. "We believe, because of the way the parsley was packaged, at least two of the students believed it was marijuana," Rockdale County Sheriffs Deputy Myra Pearrell tells the AP. The sheriffs department says this constitutes a violation of a law banning "possession of a counterfeit substance, a felony."

Oh. A felony, you say. So the drug in question doesn't have to be real; a counterfeit one is just as bad. But just how narrowly is "counterfeit" defined, anyway? I mean, parsley is green and plantlike, but that's where its resemblance to marijuana ends. Would plastic buds and twigs count? Is anything that students believe is a drug - or is packaged like a drug - out of bounds? If a student brings their little brother's play doctor kit to school, would the plastic pills and syringes get them expelled?

I guess those candy cigarettes we used to buy in middle school are completely out of the question. And the one silver lining here is that parsley ingestion or inhalation is unlikely to show up on random drug tests.

Posted by kswygert at 11:00 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

The mathematics of drug testing

Sadly enough, I think today's students have gotten to the point where this sort of invasion of privacy seems perfectly normal - even acceptable:

All 1,000 boys attending a Northwest Side Catholic high school will face mandatory drug screens next fall--a new requirement that lands them smack in the middle of a simmering national debate.

St. Patrick High School officials said Wednesday the school will be the first high school in the Chicago area to require drug testing of all students.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld drug testing in public schools, but only for athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities. Parochial schools are not bound by those rulings.

It gets worse. Parents have to shell out 60 bucks for the tests, which don't measure any level of that most prevalent and damaging drug - alcohol.

Reaction among students has been mixed. Senior Steven Rohlf said that while he had no problems with the program, many students were "very upset."

"The majority are against it," Rohlf said. "A lot of people have a privacy problem. I believe we benefit much more than it's bad."

I don't. I wrote about the dangers of random drug testing in one of my very first posts. I followed it up with a response to a National Review article on "pop" drug quizzes. I don't agree with drug testing unless there is some reason to believe that the person being tested is in fact under the influence. Random drug testing is bad; across-the-board drug testing is even worse.

Why? Because drug tests aren't perfect. No drug test is 100% accurate. And a test that boast "98% accuracy" does not mean that 98% of all those identified as drug users are, in fact users.

Let's use a a very simplified example that makes the following assumptions:

1. 5% of the students in the school above use cocaine.
2. The drug test being used is 98% accurate in detecting cocaine in users, and detecting lack of cocaine in nonusers.
3. 1000 boys are tested.

The 98% accuracy rate of the test means that, for each students, the test has a 98% chance of making the right judgement (positive/negative for cocaine). The 5% estimate tells us that we can expect 950 cocaine nonusers and 50 users out of the population of 1000 boys. The two judgement choices for non-users are false positive and true negative; for users it's false negative and true positive.

Non-users:
.98 (950) is the true negative rate, which is 931
.02 (950) is the false positive rate, or 19

Users
.98 (50) is the true positive rate, or 49
.02 (50) is the false negative rate, or 1

So what we see is that for a test with 98% accuracy, we only miss one of the drug users, but we falsely identify 2% of the non-users. Given that there are so many more nonusers than users in the population (and that's at the heart of this argument), this means that, out of the (19+49) or 68 total positive judgements, 19 of them are wrong. That's 28%, not 2%, of the total positive judgements being incorrect.

In fact, when a very large population is tested for the presence of a drug use that has an even lower occurrence than this, the false positives quickly grow to outnumber the true positives, so that most of the positive judgments you get out will be incorrect. That's the reason for not testing across the board, and that's the reason for never basing a decision on a single positive result.

A 99% accurate test is going to do better, but any drug test that is not 100% accurate and is trying to capture a tiny minority of the population is always going to generate a large number of false positives.

Not only is this sort of testing dangerous, it apparently doesn't even do what it is supposed to do, which is stop kids from using drugs:

Across the country, the usefulness of drug-testing programs is under debate. A study this year by University of Michigan researchers showed no significant difference in drug use between schools testing for drugs and those that don't.

St. Patrick is somewhat mitigating this disaster by (a) not taking disciplinary action after a single positive result, and (b) demanding a second positive result before suspension or expulsion. But that's $120 a parent has to shell out for the privilege of their kid getting kicked out of school.

This part caught my eye:

Hair sample tests, considered by experts to be more reliable than either blood or urine testing [but note that the accuracy rate is not reported], detect any drugs used within the last 90 days. Students testing positive will meet with parents and school officials but will not otherwise be disciplined.

"Then it's up to the parents to work something out with the kid," said Principal Joseph Schmidt.

If Principal Schmidt trusts parents to "work something out" on the basis of a mandatory drug test, why doesn't he trust parents to monitor their own kids for drug use in the first place? Is the assumption here that absolutely no parent of any of these boys pays attention to their kid's behaviors, habits, and attitudes?

A number of parents contacted by the Tribune enthusiastically endorsed the testing.

"As a parent, it's a great thing," said Rose Mayerbock, mother of a St. Patrick junior. "There are parents that don't necessarily realize that their child could be on something. For me, one of my biggest fears is if they are on drugs and alcohol. I am very lucky because I trust that my kids are not."

But this decision doesn't affect just those parents; it affects all parents. Rose apparently doesn't mind the school's assumption that all parents would miss any sign of a child's drug problems and are incapable of dealing with the situation. If I were a parent, I would mind.

The ACLU, unfortunately, is stymied:

"We're concerned any time groups of people are considered suspects based on their age and location," said Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But it's a private school. There's nothing we can do about it."

Posted by kswygert at 03:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The dangers of Advil

Is Louisiana in some sort of competition for academic failures and lunatic policies? First there was the valedictorian who couldn't pass a standardized exam; now they're tossing kids out of school for a year for being in possession - of Advil:

A student expelled from Parkway High for a year for having Advil, an over-the-counter pain reliever, will not be allowed to return to the school. Kelly Herpin and daughter Amanda Stiles, a sophomore, appealed the one-year expulsion to a Bossier Parish School Board committee Thursday night, spending about 10 minutes with the board's administrative committee behind closed doors.

The committee and the full board voted unanimously to uphold an administrative decision that Stiles be expelled to the alternative school...

Superintendent Ken Kruithof said after the board meeting that the school system is following a state law that requires a one-year expulsion and being consistent in the system's "zero-tolerance" policy.

But another school official said earlier Thursday that having medication on campus doesn't automatically lead to a one-year expulsion. "After an investigation and a hearing then, if necessary, punishment is administered. It could be no punishment," said Betty McCauley, Bossier schools student services director.

Um, okay. So it's not only an idiotic zero tolerance policy, but it's not actually a zero tolerance policy at all, because Advil could get you expelled, but another medication might lead to no punishment. Have I got that straight?

Herpin considers Stiles an "average student" in both grades and behavior but said Stiles never got in serious enough trouble to warrant an expulsion. Kruithof said Stiles had other disciplinary incidents in the past but said he didn't know if they resulted in suspensions.

The search of Stiles' purse that turned up the medication came after a tip from a teacher about a student smoking at school. Herpin said her daughter was part of a group that was searched in response to the tip.

Were they just looking for something, anything, with which to punish Stiles after not finding cigarettes in her purse? Tobacco would have brought on a suspension, but Advil merits a yearlong expulsion.

You know, I need an Advil after reading stories like this. Good thing I'm not a student anymore.

Posted by kswygert at 02:42 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

The love that dare not speak its name?

While I had a nice evening out (a business meal, but a nice restaurant nonetheless, and the mussels, sea scallops, and apple pie were mighty tasty), my Devoted Readers were bombarding my email inbox with this story. Devoted Readers Mike D and Reginleif get the credit for being the fastest with the news about the 2nd-grade student in Lafayette, LA, who was suspended for using the word "gay" in school.

No, not for using the term as an insult, or as a means to bully another student. Hapless little Marcus McLaurin was using the term correctly to describe his own family. Marcus has two moms, you see, and when another kid asked about his parents, Marcus simply replied that he had two moms because his mom was gay, and gay is when a girl likes another girl.

Too bad Marcus didn't realize the punishment that awaited him for telling the truth about his family in such an innocuous fashion:

A teacher who heard the remark scolded Marcus, telling him "gay" was a "bad word" and sending him to the principal's office. The following week, Marcus had to come to school early and repeatedly write: "I will never use the word 'gay' in school again."

A phone message left for Lafayette Parish schools superintendent James Easton was not immediately returned.

The ACLU is demanding the case be removed from Marcus' file and that the school apologize to the boy and his mother, Sharon Huff.

"I was concerned when the assistant principal called and told me my son had said a word so bad that he didn't want to repeat it over the phone," Huff said. "But that was nothing compared to the shock I felt when my little boy came home and told me that his teacher had told him his family is a dirty word."

What the heck was the school thinking? Marcus does have a lesbian mother. His mom clearly told him the simple version of their life, probably never imagining that Marcus's school would consider the word "gay" was in and of itself too bad to be repeated over the phone.

Is this homophobia on the school's part? If so, it's pretty extreme - I've never heard of too many homophobes who are this afraid of just the word. Or is the school administration like one of the library computer filters that makes sure a site with the word "breast" in the title never gets accessed, regardless of whether it's a porn site or a website with information about breast cancer treatment? Is the word "gay" just completely off-limits, just to make sure the school can punish any kid who uses it as an insult, too?

Preposterous.

Posted by kswygert at 09:16 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 17, 2003

The nightmare of school violence and "zero tolerance"

Finally, the NYTimes weighs in with the big picture on the zero-tolerance madness currently sweeping our schools, using data mainly from Connecticut as an example. It's a huge, three-page article that examines the current state of the public school system, in which kids "are being kicked out of school like never before":

In [Connecticut's] school systems, zero tolerance has become more than a catch phrase...It is the way schools now do business, an almost unyielding policy that has been living up to its name.

As a result, students are being kicked out of schools like never before. The number of suspensions jumped about 90 percent from 1998-1999 to 2000-2001. In the 2000-2001 school year, 90,559 children were suspended from school around the state, up from 57,626 two years earlier...

Even kindergarteners haven't been spared. For that grade alone, the rate of suspensions/expulsions almost doubled over a two-year period, to 901 for the 2002-2003 school year, from 463 in 2001-2002, according to figures provided by Jeanne Milstein, the state's child advocate. She said they were suspended and expelled for such things as fighting, defiance, and temper tantrums. "I would have been suspended from kindergarten," she said.

Yeeks! Who decided that kindergarteners needed to be suspended? Is the Connecticut version of a four-year-old really that violent?

Some researchers, child advocacy groups and parents blame the increase on the fallout from the zero-tolerance policies that swept the country during the Reagan-Bush years and became entrenched after the Columbine shootings in 1999...In Newington, for example, the high school began a policy about five years ago to not only automatically suspend students caught fighting at the high school, but also have them arrested and charged with breach of peace.

Given that some parents whose kids were suspended for trumped-up crimes have reported hearing nothing but mutters about "Columbine" from their school officials, I'd say this conjectured relationship has some merit.

...it's not just urban schools that are struggling with discipline. New Fairfield schools have had more expulsions in the first couple of months of this school year than in any of the five full years that Dr. Kathleen Matusiak has been superintendent.

"A lot of the issues have to do with bringing weapons - box cutters, knives - to school, not necessarily with an intention to hurt," Dr. Matusiak said. "Some have involved alcohol and drugs, poor judgment. We have clearly articulated conduct codes that don't tolerate those things in our schools. Our schools are for teaching and learning."

It's that little "not necessarily with an intention to hurt" that is one reason for all the headaches. Kicking out honor students for having steak knives in their car is based on the assumption that any kid with any object that may reasonably considered a weapon is planning to hurt someone; otherwise, there's no reason to punish them for it.

Zero tolerance first appeared as the name of a 1986 program that impounded boats carrying drugs. In 1994, the Gun-Free Schools Act became law and called for a student to be expelled for one full year for carrying a firearm to school. Schools broadened the policy, using the same severe disciplinary measures for varying degrees of behavior.

That "broadening" is another reason for the headaches. Guns became knives became pencil sharpeners. At this point, a kid wanting to scare someone might as well bring a gun; at some schools, that won't result in any worse a punishment than having Grandpa's fish knife accidently left in one's car.

So are schools just overreating, or are kids really getting more violent? A Connecticut-based task force reports suggest that both things are happening in tandem; the same report suggest that zero tolerance policies don't seem to be fixing the problem:

"On the other hand, educators have indicated that they are experiencing increasing frequency and severity of disruptive behaviors among students," the report said. "The task force believes the emerging pattern in Connecticut public schools increasing use of suspension and expulsion as mainstays of our disciplinary response to behavior problems should be reversed."

One success story is mentioned, of one principal who helped a school move away from zero tolerance, and towards zero expulsions:

Steve Edwards became principal of East Hartford High School in 1992, after the school's administrators had embraced zero tolerance and suspension numbers were high.

A student brought a gun to school soon after Mr. Edwards arrived, and he was promptly expelled. Not long after, another student was found with a small pocket knife in his pocket...The Board of Education expelled him, too. Mr. Edwards disagreed with the second punishment, deeming it too extreme for the offense.

"The young man who had the gun had extensive history, the other kid had a couple of detentions. But they both received the same punishment," said Mr. Edwards, who left the high school last year to become vice president of the National Crime Prevention Council. "There was no flexibility, no taking into account the history of the child. So we took a different approach after that."

The approach changed so drastically that in the final eight years of Mr. Edwards' 10-year tenure at the school, not one child was expelled from East Hartford High School, he said. Counseling, a vocation component or volunteer work in the community, and a continuance of the education of the child, somewhere in the school if not in the classroom, contributed to the decrease, he said.

Meanwhile, though, some teachers are still afraid for their lives, and claim that lowering the standards of behavior, especially for inner-city kids, does no one any good:

The state determined in a report this year that there were no "persistently dangerous schools" operating in Connecticut, but talk to Hartford teachers. They disagreed.

"We've had so many staff injured," said Tim Murphy, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers. "We have seen a tremendous effort to reduce the numbers of suspensions and dropouts, but at what expense? We're facing a very hostile environment, and we are very exposed here."

"Every instance of bullying is supposed to be reported," Mr. Murphy said. "It's widespread, invasive in this school system. But the Hartford schools are telling us there were only three cases of bullying in the whole system last year. Are you kidding me?" He laughed bitterly. "There is a kind of belief that you have to tolerate a lesser standard of behavior now, for inner-city kids especially. We object to that strenuously."

How has the system developed so that a "weapon" owned by a kid with "no intention to harm" results in suspension, while a teacher actually being assaulted doesn't result in a report of an attack? Have we created a system that traps only the one-time miscreants while letting the chronic problem children slide through?

Doctors report that more kids are being sent to the ER because the administrators simply don't know what to do with them. Will this result in better treatment for problems? No one knows, but it certainly seems that zero tolerance policies, no matter how good their intention, are not the answer to reducing school violence.

Posted by kswygert at 12:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 15, 2003

Taking The War On Drugs to a whole new level

Devoted Reader Reginleif brought to my attention the sad tale of the 14-year-old student whose tendency to fall asleep in algebra class brought him some negative attention. It seems his "boring" algebra teacher took offense to her snoozing student and called the school police force in so that she could accuse this student of abusing drugs:

So my son fell asleep in alegba class today. Apparently, it's the third time this year he's done that, in that specific class. He's had no other trouble in school so far. He is not a disciplineary problem. Other teachers like him...

But he fell asleep in algebra class today. It is a class he hates and a teacher that he finds, in his words, "boring." It's the only teacher he describes in these glowing terms.

The teacher, apparently, extends the same love and affection for my son. For the infraction of falling asleep in her class, she has used the Full Extent of the Laws of the State of New Jersey.

She called the principal. She called the cop assigned to the school. She said that his falling asleep was "just cause" to use the state law against my son, as she suspected that surely, this sleep was caused by drug abuse.

Yes, drugs.

Ginny, the boy's mother, then goes on to point out that her son is learning disabled, is seated in the back of the room, and is most likely bored by and has trouble concentrating on the material. In a followup posting, she notes that her son gets 8 hours of sleep a night, and despite his diagnoses of ADHD and LD, algebra is the only class in which he falls asleep, and he's still earning a good grade in it:

Despite having so much stacked against him: a learning disability, teachers that he feels uncomfortable with and a class that he finds tedious, the boy is getting either an A or a B in this specific class. He finds it difficult to concentrate as a matter of course for his particular learning disability. When combined with the sheer monotony of the subject matter and teachers seem less than supportive, my son manages to pass the class and the only problem that we seem to have is that this particular teacher lulls him to sleep once a month.

In response to this problem, My son is accused of drug abuse and is suspended for a day. I have to take my son to the hospital and have him urinate on command and be examined for track marks on the back of his knees while a doctor tells him not to worry about this incident being in his record, even Presidents Clinton and Bush managed to become leaders of our great country after having used illegal drugs. What kind of statement is that for a physician to tell a child?

I'd be enraged, too. It's very hard for me to believe that, in one of the "good schools" in New Jersey, there is an algebra teacher who has neither the insight to wonder if her teaching style could be more engaging, nor the compassion to ask a dozing student if he's feeling okay, or if he needs to go see the school nurse. The fact that this teacher brought down the full extent of the law and the damning charge of drug abuse in response to a sleepy kid suggests to me that this teacher is incompetent and well aware of it (as evidenced by the teacher's hypersensitivity and hostility).

Ginny is writing a letter to the school superintendent about the incident. You can leave comments to her at both of the postings linked above; I would urge you to do so if you've ever had to deal with school officials for these kinds of incidents before and you can give some advice.

Posted by kswygert at 12:16 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

November 13, 2003

The zero tolerance quagmire, Part II

Over the past week, I've noticed the phrase "education quagmire" popping up everywhere. Apparently, the term in its current usage was born on November 9th at the National Review blog, The Corner:

SCHOOLHOUSE QUAGMIRE [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

An educator in Michigan e-mails:

I love this line I heard today from a Vet who spoke at our school assembly.

He talked about the "...educational quagmire and political correctness..." of the institutions that no longer teach about military valor and honor.

Educational quagmire...wonder how the liberals would feel if conservatives started using that tagline?

Glenn Reynolds is apparently delighted with the term and has used it no less than six times since November 9th (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Joanne Jacobs has picked up on the term as well (although she merely notes its spread, and does not use it herself).

Let me be the first (perhaps) to respectfully disagree with Ms. Lopez and her correspondent, as well as Professor Reynolds, about the use of this phrase for describing the current problematic state of K-12 public schools. The reason this term was suggested to someone at NRO is because, I'm sure, the anti-war left-wing crowd has delighted in referring to the War in Iraq as a "quagmire," almost since the beginning. Dick Gephardt, for example, specifically used the term way back in July. The implication is that President Bush began an unwinnable war for all the wrong reasons, and now our servicemen and women are suffering (and dying) in vain. Many pro-war and/or conservative commenters have written with scorn and ridicule about the rush of left-wingers (and Europeans) to use this phrase; some big names in media were forced to admit their quagmire predictions were wrong way back in May.

I'm not here to debate whether Iraq is a quagmire, but I do believe the term quagmire has become synonomous with "An unwinnable and unworthy Republican/George Bush war," so the use of the term "education quagmire" doesn't suggest what the folks at NRO think it does. If anything, I would not be at all surprised to see the anti-testing, anti-accountability, anti-Bush crowd define the No Child Left Behind Act as the "education quagmire," and I'm sure they'd feel justified in doing so. Let me explain.

The current state of education is somewhat muddied and controversial because all of the NCLB requirements are relatively new; they are confusing, difficult to understand (sometimes), and difficult to fulfill (often). Special education programs in particular are feeling very frustrated, Head Start teachers believe that the new tests for their little charges are not useful, and many schools complain that the new testing and school grading methods are not appropriate, or do not accurately reflect the quality of the schools.

Regardless of the validity of the complaints listed above, they all came about because President Bush is waging what I think is a worthy and winnable "war" against a concept of "education" that doesn't include facts, or basic skills, or core knowledge. For us who support NCLB to suggest that we are in an "education quagmire" is to suggest that the "war" currently being fought against those who so ruined public education in the first place is unwinnable, and unworthy, and not worth the sacrifices it has required.

On the other hand, the term "zero tolerance quagmire" is accurate and does hit the anti-education educrats where they live. The current state of zero tolerance policies, and the horror stories that accompany them, do represent a quagmire resulting from the "war" that educrats are waging upon politically-incorrect behavior, the constitutional rights of their students, and common sense and good judgment in general.

Thus, the term "zero-tolerance quagmire" is more appropriate, and that's the term I'll be using (no offense to the Instaman and NRO). It's nitpicky, I know, but that's the way I am.

Update: Don't miss Jay Mathews' review of the "myths," and the realities, of the NCLB Act.

Posted by kswygert at 01:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The zero tolerance quagmire, Part 1

Is it just me, or do school administrators actually seem to be competing to find the most inane and unfair reasons for booting kids off campus?

In addition to the recent cases of Wesley Juhl and Angela Scatudo, who face punishment because of personal weblogs, we now have the sad case of Wisconsin high school student Sashwat Singh, whose off-color rhymes - performed off school grounds - have resulted in a five-day suspension; expulsion is still a possibility. It seems the honor student recorded a rap CD that the Brookfield Central High principal doesn't much like:

Over the course of three months, Sashwat Singh wrote and recorded a 32-minute, 14-track rap compact disc featuring rants that made reference to illegal drug use and explicit sexual acts. He denigrates classmates, his mother and his high school. One track is a rap he used when campaigning to be class treasurer.

School administrators called the disc, which includes a song about the principal, Mark Cerutti, and conditions at the school, "gross disobedience or misconduct," an offense on par with making a bomb threat, bringing guns to school and arson...

Let's restate that, for emphasis. A personal musical recording with vulgar and obnoxious lyrics is as threatening to school safety as bringing guns to school or burning the schoolhouse down. I find that hard to believe, and I bet some Columbine parents would be much happier today had Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold done nothing worse than make an anti-Columbine CD.

Sashwat Singh insisted the lyrics weren't meant as a threat, but "just random words that rhymed. I didn't think I had done anything wrong."...

Cerutti said that he first became aware of Sashwat Singh's CD on Oct. 29, and that he was suspended later that day. Matt Gibson, the Elmbrook School District superintendent, said he was "fact-finding to determine whether or not to move it toward expulsion...

Singh's suspension may mark the first time a high school student in Wisconsin has been removed from school for a song he'd written, said Ken Cole, the executive director of the Madison-based Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Cole said a threat couched in music made outside school "isn't a matter of all in good sport or fun. If some incident occurs a month from now, someone will say, 'You knew back then.' We have to treat every incident very seriously"...

Emphasis on that phrase mine, because in this context, that phrase means schools cannot use any personal judgment to decide whether to punish an honors student, who takes AP classes and is a member of the school's band and choir, when that student has the motivation and technological savvy needed to record an album entirely on his home computer. The fact that Singh is smart, took school seriously, and apparently had no background of violence of criminal behavior is of no consequence. The most important thing is to ensure that students are forbidden, 24 hours a day, from expressing thoughts that anyone in the academic environment might find unsettling or distasteful, regardless of the student doing the thinking and the context in which that thinking is expressed.

That is what taking each incident "very seriously" means these days. Joanne Jacobs agrees with the "police state" description given to this school, and so do I.

Dan Macallair, the executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, said the suspension is indicative of a national trend toward zero tolerance in schools. "We're punishing kids for things that we adults never would have been punished for when we were that age," he said. "If we try to criminalize every comment that adolescents made, all our kids would be locked up."

Believe me, the educrats are working on that. Way down in Florida, sixteen-year-old Ryan Richter has been expelled based on a stick-figure drawing that another student found threatening:

Richter, a LaBelle High School sophomore, sketched a figure shooting another figure. He did the sketch in a recent geometry class and passed it along to a friend and thought nothing else of it. The classroom doodling, however, got him suspended for a week and as of Monday’s disciplinary hearing, got him kicked out of LaBelle High and recommended for a 45-day stint in Hendry County’s alternative high school...

A student told school authorities that Richter said the dead stick figure was a direct reference to someone and the pony-tailed shooter was a depiction of himself, according to Richter’s account of Monday’s meeting. Richter, who wears his black hair in a pony tail, said the stick-figure shooter wasn’t him and the victim wasn’t anyone at his school.

That must have been one damn fine stick-figure drawing if school officials believe that it's 100% accurate in representing Richter and his "victim," dontcha think?

The school principal referred all calls to Superintendent Thomas Conner. Conner said he can’t comment on the case directly because it’s a confidential student matter. But he did say school officials take threats of violence seriously.

Using the definition of "seriously" that I outlined above, in which actions are removed from context, inflated beyond all belief, and used to apply punitive sanctions to students who are in no other way a threat, yes, I'd say officials are taking this "seriously."

Richter’s artwork does have a violent bent, his parents said. He likes to draw a cartoon character he calls “Little Paranoid Happy Dude,” whose personality can snap from happy-go-lucky to raging mad. But the elder Richter and Ross don’t think their son has problems. They say he’s a driven young man who wants to be an architect and finish high school early so he can start college...

[Nearby] Lee County’s zero tolerance rules are similarly strict, according to a review of the district’s student code of conduct. Punishments for fights, threats or weapons violations range from detention to suspension to expulsion, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

I suppose now that cartoon violence will now be added to the list of forbidden activities, if it hasn't been already. After all, Florida is the same state in which honors student Lindsay Brown was forbidden from attending graduation in 2001 because a steak knife was found in her car. She spent nine hours in a jail cell before that decision was made, by the way.

Update: Here's John Hawkins of RightWingNews, whose attitude is, "Hey if school officials want to be afraid of stick figures, HERE's a good one for 'em."

As John puts it so well: "Viva la stick figure violence! Up with freedom of expression, down with fussbudgets!"

Posted by kswygert at 01:01 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003

Zero tolerance and bad police procedure

It never fails. If I had been here to post over the last three days, the testing/school/zero tolerance news would have been drier than dust. Because I left town, there were all sort of salacious developments. Luckily for all of us, people like Joanne Jacobs and Daryl Cobranchi were around to take up the slack.

For starters, Joanne has all the updates on the outrageous "drug raid" in Goose Creek, SC. As she reports, guns were drawn even before the police entered the school, and some kids were patted down and questioned about money in their wallets by the principal (free registration is required to read the article). Be sure to read the comments on Joanne's posting, especially the long one left by enraged reader Bob King (edited here for space reasons):

The cops apparently took a control-freak principal's WORD as to what the surveillance tapes meant and committed a full-out, consciously terrifying raid on a school, and [another commenter said] that the fact they were raiding for drugs justifies the fact that they did a drug raid in the most consciously intimidating and terrifying way imaginable?...

Here's a clue for you; while the school is "in loco parentus" and as such somewhat exempt, that's due to delegation of parential rights, and that which is delegated is subject to review. It's not an inherent right given to a school to excercise on a whim, nor is it a licence to violate natural rights, much less endanger the lives of children that delegation is intended to protect...

Yes, IF there is a reasonable appreciation that there ARE drugs AND those drugs are being dealt by dealers who are actually ARMED with something more lethal than a #2 pencil, THEN it might be reasonable to do that, IF THE BUILDING WASN'T UNDER COMPLETE SURVEILLANCE to record for posterity what kind of jackbooted IDIOTS are in charge of the freaking raid!...

My NRA training told me to never draw a weapon unless I was prepared to put a slug right in the center of mass RIGHT THAT SECOND. I was taught to PRESUME a drawn weapon to be a deadly threat, and to respond IMMEDIATELY to such a threat by putting two in the chest and one in the head.

Then they went back to the idea that you never, ever even TOUCH the butt of your gun unless it's your intention to ventilate someone if they so much as twitch.

What he said. Why would any kid want to return to a school in which it is patently obvious that the principal thinks of him as a criminal first, and a student second? I know if my principal was willing to approve armed raids on obviously-sketchy evidence, I'd be too afraid to walk back into the building.

Joanne's wrapups are always good - "The Ody brothers are black, like 70 of 107 students searched at the majority white school. The ACLU is investigating. It's going to be lawsuit time in Goose Creek, South Carolina."

(Update: Backcountry Conservative has more.)

Joanne and Daryl also posted on the newest "crime" in Zero Tolerance Land - the Crime of Posting Inappropriate Information on One's Private Weblog:

"Kill Alaina!"

The throwaway comment about an irritating friend is one that former Valley High School senior Wesley Juhl wishes he had never recorded in his blog, a personal Web site he used to chronicle daily life.

At the end of September, a month after he first posted it on his personal computer while in the privacy of his home, Juhl found himself sitting in the dean's office facing disciplinary action.

That journal statement, and another that included a vulgar comment about a teacher, earned Juhl an in-school suspension and a required parent conference. The disciplinary action also brought to light the fact that Juhl did not have a current zone variance to attend Valley. As a result, Juhl was sent to Chaparral High School, which is the school zone he resides in.

Juhl, 18, is still wondering what authority allowed the Clark County School District to punish him. His journal was not a school assignment and was not posted using a school computer or a school message board...

Juhl wasn't the only Valley student who landed in hot water because of comments recorded in a personal online journal. His friend, Valley senior Angie Scaduto, was called to the dean's office at the same time Juhl was.

She was questioned about one of her journal entries, which began: "I almost killed everyone today."

The entry went on to explain all the things that had gone wrong that day, she said, and wasn't a threat against anyone. She also was asked about things she'd written about her mother and the fact that she'd said she'd taken cold medicine during lunch one day at school.

"I kept asking, `What does this have to do with school?' " Scaduto said. "They never answered my question. I was completely shocked about it. They were my personal private thoughts and I was getting picked on for them."

Let's recap, shall we, before we go any further? These were personal postings on personal weblogs that these two students posted outside of school time, which had nothing to do with his school assignments and did not make use of school-owned hardware or software. Were the comments in bad taste? Yes, although any adult with IQ higher than that of mayonnaise knows that the phrase "I'd like to kill so-and-so" is often said with no murderous intent whatsoever. Did these postings to the Internet make Juhl and Scatudo's thoughts no longer as "private" as they believed? Yes. Does the fact that they attend a public school give that school the right to completely rescind their First Amendment Rights? Apparently so.

For some reason, this school, and some of the commenters on Joanne's blog, see nothing wrong with the idea of school administrators trolling the Internet for their students' weblogs, apparently in the hopes of finding even one tiny little phrase that offends their sensibilities. The concept that students might express rude or thoughtless phrases is apparently no longer acceptable regardless of whether the student is at school. That's absolutely appalling.

One of Joanne's commenters went with the "public decency" argument:

Should a student really be able to post vulgarities about a teacher in a public place with no fear of retribution from the school? Should you not be held responsible for what you do in public place (and what place is more public than the Internet?) when that reflects on the school?

It's like a kid saying "Hey, I can say or do anything I want over here about you in a very public manner, and YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!" Like it or not, once that gets around, it can be disruptive to a school environment.

In other words, students don't have First Amendment rights, a student's behavior may be judged and/or punished by the school 24-7, and any student's expression is essentially owned by and reflective of the school.

Does no one see the slippery slope this creates? Today, we say that saying, "I'd like to kill this person" on your weblog justifies intervention and punishment, solely because of incidents like Columbine. So what thoughts will be unacceptable tomorrow? "I don't like my gay classmates"? "I hate my parents"? "I hope we invade every Muslim country in the Mideast"? Is there no space left whatsoever for students to remain unjudged by the terrified and terrorizing PC crowd?

I mean, I'm all for school discipline, but I do indeed believe that a kid can go out in public away from school and express their non-PC thoughts, and the school should not be able to do a damn thing about it.

Again, Joanne's summary is far more concise: "If students are making death threats or planning to start an antihistamine ring operating out of the girls' restroom, call the cops. (Preferably not the Goose Creek commando squad.) If teen-agers are rude, profane or "inappropriate" on their own time, it's none of the school's business."

Posted by kswygert at 05:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 05, 2003

Teacher's "practical joke" causes panic

Well, it's nice to know the zero-tolerance policies apply to everybody in school:

A 42-year-old first-grade teacher at Washington-Reid Elementary School wrote a note claiming there was a bomb in the building, Prince William County police said Tuesday. The note was intended as a practical joke, police said, but Elizabeth Schuette, of Montclair, was charged with threatening to bomb.

The teacher was caught on video leaving the note near the school's front entrance Monday, said Detective Dennis Mangan and schools Superintendent Edward Kelly.

The note said: "There's a bomb in the school today," according to police.

Police said the note was left for another teacher, who was expected to be the next person in the door. Instead, it was found by a school employee about 7 a.m., and buses were diverted to John Pattie Elementary School. Everyone in Washington-Reid was evacuated.

The teacher is now on "administrative leave"; despite the videos, she has not yet been found guilty of anything. The administrators also allege that Shuette was one of the best teachers in school, which leaves me to ponder a few things:

(1) How good a teacher could she be, when she doesn't understand just how dumb it is to place a phony bomb threat as a "joke"?
(2) How bad must the other teachers in school be, when they are presumably less capable than she?
(3) What should we conclude about that "other teacher" for whom the note was intended? Was that other person the kind of teacher who would find a situation like Columbine hilarious, for example?
(4) What evidence, exactly, is the school waiting on in order to fire Shuette? An admission of ill-intent? Corroborating evidence? She was caught on video, for heaven's sakes (yet more evidence of her lack of "higher-order thinking skills).

Posted by kswygert at 01:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 03, 2003

Two for the price of one

Twelve-year-old Mason Kisner of Rio Rancho (NM) says he was just taking advantage of a misprogrammed Pepsi-Cola machine that gave him two sodas for the price of one. The school claims Mason "manipulated" the machine from the outside (an act that Pepsi-Cola claims is impossible) and gave him an in-school suspension for being a thief. The incident is allegedly the "talk of the town" in Rio Rancho.

My advice is, move to Rio Rancho right now. I mean, if the school has a spot in the suspension classroom for kids who get two cans of soda for the price of one, and the town has no more pressing topic for talk radio and local news broadcasts than these types of shenanigans, I'd say it sounds like a pretty safe (if somewhat slow-paced) place to live.

Update: Hold on a minute. Best of the Web points out that Rio Rancho High School is the very same school where a teacher brandished a gun - and yet was still offered a teaching contract, pending outcome of his trial - while one student was suspended for having a one-inch penknife, and another was jailed for five days for having a hunting knife in his car.

In other words, Rio Rancho seems to be Ground Zero for Zero-Tolerance Idiocy. I foresee Lawsuit # 3 being filed against the school in the near future...

Posted by kswygert at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 29, 2003

Chicken puppets and scary drawings

*Sigh* Can I just combine the stories about PETA antics and zero-tolerance idiocies into one post? It would be easier. Thanks.

First up, those wacky anti-science PETA activists disrupt a middle school to protest eating chicken. Needless to say, PETA handed out literature and spoke to kids without getting school or parental permission first; you never know when those guardians might try something tricky like teaching kids the science that supports medical research.

Although the ingestion of fried chicken could be discouraged on the grounds of bad nutrition and digestive discomfort, PETA's constant refrain that children have a "natural empathy" for animals, and their use of that as an excuse for propanda distribution, is enough to give anyone indigestion as well.

Next, Devoted Reader Mark T sends along this story of a patriotic 14-year-old who has been suspended for drawing military figures engaged in combat.

A 14-year-old New Jersey schoolboy — whose dad and stepdad are in the military — was suspended for five days because he drew a "patriotic" stick figure of a U.S Marine blowing away a Taliban fighter, officials said yesterday.

"He's been punished for the drawing," said Tinton Falls school superintendent Leonard Kelpsh. "We felt it was highly inappropriate, and we took it very seriously."

Inappropriate why? Was it threatening to anyone in the school? Was it meant to scare other students? Or is it simply unacceptable to hold pro-war, anti-Taliban thoughts in New Jersey schools?

Scott Switzer, of Colts Neck, was sent home last week from Tinton Falls Middle School (search) after a teacher saw the image on a computer and described it to the principal...

"Truth be told, it's a Marine shooting a terrorist Taliban," he told The Post. "It's just a picture. What upsets me most is that the principal would dare say it's not normal. To me, it's patriotic."...

Scott said school officials may have been edgy because of an earlier incident in which other students had drawn a "very Columbine-ish" picture.

Key phrase here is "other students." If I read this correctly, Scott is being punished in part because of what other students did. If he didn't draw the "Columbine-ish" pictures, why should any of that tension spill over on him?

Officials said they were concerned because his drawing contained a reference to another student who they feared might have been a potential target. But a local psychologist who examined the teenager said the sketch was benign.

"I don't attribute pathological significance to it," said Dr. Gloria Tillman, a psychologist who treated the boy for ADD. "I have to wonder what is expected of our children today when 1) our country is at war and 2) both his father and stepfather are out fighting the war."

I'm not so concerned about what is expected of our children as I am about what is expected of our school officials, especially in terms of judgement and common sense and viewing things in context. If the school really felt that another child was threatened, then they may have had a point in isolating Scott and talking to him. But if the picture doesn't really have any threatening messages to anyone in particular, and if the boy's own psychologist doesn't see a problem, what right does the school have to label the boy as "not normal?" Since when is it "not normal" for young boys to be fascinated by weaponry, war, and battles - especially boys whose family members are in the military?

Posted by kswygert at 05:29 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 27, 2003

Rachel Boim, updated

Rachel Boim has been allowed back into Roswell High School until her hearing on November 13th, at which point the school board will decide whether to uphold the suspension. The indignant articles have already begun, and I hope that the outcry has some impact on those who insist that Rachel must be a threat to her teachers:

"Schools with zero tolerance stirs critics":

Fulton County officials said the journal was confiscated because Boim passed it around in class, causing a disruption. And though facing public outcry, Fulton officials stand by their process. But the zero tolerance policy they used likely will face heavy scrutiny.

"Zero tolerance means zero brain," said Brian A. Glaser, an education professor at the University of Georgia and co-director of its juvenile counseling and assessment program. "The hope of zero tolerance was that if you take the human judgment and emotions out, then the rules would be equally applied across various groups."

"Diary entry provokes overreaction":

If only common sense were more common.

Last week, Fulton County school officials expelled an honor student for a story she wrote in her personal diary...

By Friday, after public outrage, those same officials announced they would temporarily rescind the expulsion pending further investigation. They should make that decision permanent...

It probably [?!] was not appropriate for the teacher to read the personal diary that he had confiscated. It certainly was not appropriate to react by delivering the sternest punishment available to a school, which is expulsion.

...dealing with it through punishment, as if writing a story in a private diary was a thought crime of some sort, is an overreaction. Surely cooler heads in the Fulton County school bureaucracy can see the folly of their original approach.

Finally, we have a guest column by Ms. Boim herself:

When a teacher took up my journal during fifth-period class on Oct. 7, I wasn't concerned that someone would read the story about the dreaming girl. I was more worried that some of my poems would be read...

When I wrote this story I never perceived it as a threat. The story was just something I had written at the beginning of the year while I was bored in class...

The journal in question contains some personal poems, plus quotes, songs and stories. It has a collage of words on its cover. At the time it was taken, one of my friends was writing in it.

The following day I was taken out of class by the school resource officer. At first I was really worried that something had happened to one of my parents. When I was told it was about my journal, I thought that it was ridiculous to have an armed guard escort me to the office...

(Yeah, you know how those young, poetry-writing, flowy-haired blonde girls are, statistically, the ones most likely to physically attack a school principal. You can't turn your back on 'em for a second - of COURSE an armed guard was necessary.)

My tribunal was on Oct. 22. It was a closed trial that lasted for three hours. David Bottoms, Georgia's poet laureate, and Megan Sexton, editor of Five Points Magazine, testified on my behalf. We also presented written testimony from the Heritage Professor of Writing at George Mason University, David Bausch, the author of 15 books. The hearing officer found me guilty and sentenced me to expulsion. I don't think it would have made a difference if the pope had testified on my behalf. The decision was made before I even entered the room...

But of course! That's the whole point of "zero tolerance." School administrators should not have to consider evidence, weigh the facts, or make judgments about any situations! I'm surprised there was even a hearing at all. Must be a vestige of those days when school officials actually stopped to think before they expelled students.

This experience will not discourage me from writing. If anything it will motivate me to write more stories. I will just have to be more careful about where I write them and who I show them to.

Unfortunately, she's correct.

Posted by kswygert at 12:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 24, 2003

Just when I think it can't get worse...

So, the "Dumbass of the Week" category is taken. Can I initiate the "Surreal School Overreaction of the Week" award? Because this one definitely deserves that prize (via Best of the Web):

The Fulton County school system on Friday temporarily rescinded the expulsion of a Roswell High School freshman who wrote a fictional tale in her private journal about a student who dreams she kills a teacher.

Ok. Stop. Right. There. A student was expelled because she wrote in a private journal about a fictional character who dreams about killing a teacher? How many steps removed from reality, not to mention any concept of reasonable privacy, did this school have to be to decide that this warranted expulsion in the first place?

Here's the original story:

Rachel Boim, 14, who moved here from suburban Denver, about 20 minutes from Columbine High School, was expelled after a closed, three-hour hearing conducted Wednesday by a Fulton County school system official.

School system spokeswoman Susan Hale said the expulsion was for "inappropriate writings that describe the threat of bodily harm toward a school employee."

"Anytime the safety and security of our students and staff are put into question, we investigate the situation and, if warranted, take serious action," Hale said. "After reviewing the evidence, the hearing officer felt expulsion was an appropriate disciplinary response."

Wednesday's hearing included testimony from Rachel's parents, Georgia's poet laureate and an editor of Five Points, a literary magazine published by Georgia State University. They all testified that the girl's story was nothing more than a work of fiction in a journal filled with drawings, coloring, poems and other creative expression...

The journal entry describes a student, who is unnamed, having a dream while asleep in class. In the dream, the student shoots a teacher and then runs out of the classroom, only to be killed by a security guard...The journal does not name a specific teacher...

David Boim said his daughter often carries her personal journal and did not have it in class as part of an assignment when it was confiscated Oct. 7. Art teacher Travis Carr took the journal during the class because Rachel was passing it to a classmate, Boim said.

Carr kept the journal overnight, and on Oct. 8 Rachel was taken from her second-period class by school police and her parents were summoned to the school.

If I were Rachel's parents, I'd sue the pants off everyone involved in this. This is absolutely bottom-of-the barrel, negative-IQ, no-judgment-involved thinking. Her father is absolutely right to say that her constitutional rights have been violated, although I'm amazed at the restraint her parents are displaying in this article. I would not have even ceded, as does her mother, that this extremely private literature should have been brought to the parents' attention.

Even if we give the teacher leeway for confiscating the journal, on the grounds that it was a non-class-related item being passed around during class, the teacher had no right to keep it and no right to read it. And then to summon the police in and expel a creative honors student for a private work of fiction? This young woman must feel like she's been raped. I would have, if a teacher took my private journal, read it, and then pressed criminal charges against me for what was in it, resulting in publicity which declared to the entire school, not to mention the world, what was in the journal.

Every time I assume that the zero-tolerance idiocies cannot get worse, they do. Next up, I assume, is that schools will move beyond regulating all thought, speech, and action within the school grounds and start prosecuting students for "crimes" committed off the grounds (in fact, since Rachel wrote the story at home, isn't that exactly what has happened here?). No kid in the public school system will be safe.

I hope Roswell High School understands that it has just made itself a national laughingstock - and that it's also just terrifed any Roswell student who has ever put pen to paper to express a politically-incorrect thought. What's next? Locker searches for angry notes? Private-journal-sniffing dogs?

Update: I missed the appearance of Rachel and her father on Hannity and Colmes tonight; if anyone saw it, let me know. They also did an interview with CNN reporter Soledad O'Brian, who asks some rather thick-headed questions, and I thought the Boims showed amazing restraint:

O'BRIEN: David, obviously you guys have been now embroiled in this controversy with the school. Can you understand the school's perspective, a teacher takes that, reads that says, "Oh, my goodness, this sounds to me like a kid who is planning on shooting up our school?"

DAVID BOIM: The school administrators live in a what-if world. So I can understand them being concerned and calling us in and having a discussion. But what -- everything that transpired beyond that is almost surreal. The fact that her teacher took the book because it might have been a distraction in class, that's great. The fact that the journal was not returned and he actually read the journal -- that's very, very disturbing to me. And she was expelled for inappropriate writings.

What is appropriate writing? What is not appropriate writing? What is an appropriate thought? What is not an appropriate thought? Where does that erosion of civil liberties and our rights as American citizens -- where does that begin and where does that end? That -- those are very troubling issues. And I made it very clear to them from the very beginning that those were my concerns.

Let me tell you, my stepfather is a patient man, but he not have been as patient as Mr. Boim was, had a reporter suggested that a school might have a point in assuming that a fictional tale of mine about a single violent act would be reasonable evidence to assume that I was "planning on shooting up our school." His answer would have been, "Are you insane? If the administrators are stupid enough to conclude that, after reading this journal which they had no business reading in the first place, and so completely incapable of understanding the difference between the constitutionally-protected act of creative writing and criminal planning, then they're too dumb to be left alone with minors, period."

Mr. Boim's response is much more elegant and polite. But I believe he makes the same point.

Posted by kswygert at 04:59 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

From "due process" to "dupe excess"

I often run a weekly "Friday Favorites" post, while over at Highered Intelligence, Michael Lopez has a much more interesting tradition: Dumbass (Quote) of the Week.

And this one's a doozy:

DUMB-ASS QUOTE OF THE WEEK! Yes, it has returned. There have been mercifully few candidates as of late, but Daryl points the way to one in this article about a girl suspended for bringing a pencil sharpener to school. [Note: the link appears to be down.] I'll admit, it looks like a plain old straight razor in miniature, and that's effectively what it is. But those little plastic ones have a razor in them that can be taken out by unscrewing the screw, and sharp pencils themselves are a dangerous weapon. It's not the weapons, its the attitude. Anyway, the girl was suspended for bringing the pencil sharpener she's used all her life to school. The school district has this to say:

District officials said they had no choice but to follow their zero-tolerance policy to the letter, however.

"If we vary from the rules, that's when the rules fall apart," said Christopher B. Gilbert, an attorney for the district.

No, if you vary from the rules parents want to know why. The rules don't fall apart, the school district simply gets sued by a thousand parents who all want to know why Johnny didn't get suspended when their kid did.

But that's not what due process is. Due Process means giving everyone a fair hearing, not treating everyone exactly the same all the time. You have to treat people in similar circumstances similarly, but even then they don't need to be treated the same. Criminals don't all serve the same sentences for the same crimes; there are sentencing ranges. And there's no need to suspend every single student who brings an item that could theoretically be used as a weapon.

That's not Due Process, that's Dupe Excess. And Mister Gilbert, while I appreciate the situation you are in because of who your client is, you also have a duty to be a thinking human being as well as an attorney. As one attorney to another....

Congratulations. You have won the Dumb Ass of the Week award here on Highered Intelligence.

Does Mr. Gilbert get a trophy for that?

Posted by kswygert at 03:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

Muslim headscarves and zero tolerance

Boy, is this school ever caught between a rock and a hard place:

The father of a Muslim girl suspended from her Muskogee school for wearing a religious head scarf said he hopes to avoid litigation by speaking with school officials Friday. Nashala Hearn and her parents are scheduled to meet with school officials to appeal the 11-year-old's suspension for wearing a hijab in violation of the district's dress code.

She has worn the headdress, which Muslim women wear for religious reasons, since Aug. 18, the first day of class at Benjamin Franklin Science Academy...But on Sept. 11, Nashala said she was called to the principal's office and had to call her parents about the hijab. They were told the headwear violated school policy...

A civil liberties group has threatened to sue the Muskogee school district if the controversy isn't resolved. John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute in Virginia, said Thursday he was appalled at Nashala's suspension.

"The courts have been clear that religious faiths have to be accommodated, even in the public schools, especially if it is part of their faith," Whitehead said of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

But Superintendent Eldon Gleichman isn't backing down. The dress code, which forbids the wearing of hats, caps, bandanas, or other headwear at school, was established to curb gang activity, Gleichman said.

Benjamin Franklin won't show favoritism to any religion, school officials said.

So headwear has to be banned, because the gang problems are too bad at Benjamin Franklin? It seems very odd, indeed, that religious headdresses are not allowed, as this ban affects yarmulkes as well. In its effort not to show "religious favoritism," the school is on a course guaranteed to offend a religious group at some point.

Posted by kswygert at 12:45 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

October 10, 2003

Brandon Kivi update

No word yet online on the Brandon Kivi hearing, and it turns out that I misunderstood the purpose of the hearing. He has already been expelled; the hearing is to determine whether the school will press third-degree felony charges against him. The principal is claiming that expulsion is warranted because Brandon had tried to share his inhaler before.

The problem with that argument is that if "delivery of any such drug is a mandatory expulsion offense," as listed in the article, why was the principal allowed to use his judgment and not expel Kivi the first time this happened? Either it's a mandatory offense, or it isn't, and this sounds to me like the school is trying to have it both ways. If the principal felt justified in not expelling Brandon the first time this happened, I don't understand how he can now claim that he has to expel Brandon for this "mandatory" offense.

Update: The hearing is over. The school will not press criminal charges against Kivi, but his expulsion stands:

Kivi's family is relieved it's over.

"I won in a way, but what they (did) to my son was unfair. I'm still angry," said Theresa Hock, Kivi's mother.

Kivi said the ordeal taught him the lesson of a lifetime.

"If I had this to do again, I would do the right thing and ask the nurse before I do it, to keep out of trouble," Kivi said.

Ferguson was not disciplined over the incident.

Both Kivi and Ferguson decided to withdraw from Caney Creek High School to be home-schooled.

The families received calls of support from around the world after their story was made public.

Interesting that Kivi's girlfriend is voluntarily withdrawing from school as well. My guess is that her parents aren't too happy that their daughter's asthma attack was not taken seriously by the school nurse, and that Kivi was discliplined for (possibly) saving their daughter's life.

Posted by kswygert at 06:46 PM | Comments (6)

October 09, 2003

My letter to the school board

Yesterday, I posted about the appalling case of Brandon Zivi, and I also posted the link to the page with email addresses for the Conroe Independent School District. The hearing is tomorrow. Now, the school is claiming not only that Brandon's girlfriend was in no danger, but that Brandon had tried to "give" out his medication before, as though a student with severe asthma would push a prescription medication on students who did not need it (thankfully, Brandon will have an attorney present). Here is the letter that I sent to Dr. Don Stockton, Superintendent of Schools:

Dear Dr. Stockton -

My name is Kimberly Swygert, and I run a weblog about education reform and standardized testing. Many of my readers are parents, and I find myself posting on topics outside of testing because of my readers' interests. I often post about zero-tolerance policies and the sometimes-idiotic results that follow from a blind adherence to such policies.

The case of Brandon Kivi is, I believe, one of the worst zero-tolerance situations that I have encountered. It is absolutely appalling that a school board, and a principal, would adhere so closely to the letter of the law that they would choose to put a student's life in danger. This is the sort of situation that reveals such a policy for the unworkable and dangerous law that it is, and I am saddened to see that the school has abdicated its ability to make judgements and its willingness to put the health of its students above all else.

I have posted about this situation on my blog, and I posted a link to CISD Board of Trustees page, which includes email addresses for all the board members. I urged my readers to write in before the scheduled hearing of Mr. Kivi's fate. I hope that the board makes the right decision and does not follow through with its threats of punitive action against Mr. Kivi. Expelling him would do nothing but demonstrate to the students of Caney Creek High School that their administrators and teachers are unwilling or unable to use good judgment in situations that may seriously affect a student's health, and that any student who innocently offers to help another student will face punishment so severe as to derail his or her educational career.

You may read my comments on this story here:

http://www.kimberlyswygert.com/archives/001431.html

And rest assured that I will post the results of the hearing on my page as well.

Sincerely,
Kimberly Swygert
Number 2 Pencil

Posted by kswygert at 09:32 PM | Comments (10)

October 08, 2003

Be prepared - to be suspended

Once again, Opinion Journal's Best of the Web comes through with the latest stories in zero-tolerance lunacy. Many of the previous cases have been about hapless students who had "dangerous" objects in their car unawares, but this latest situation takes the cake. Santiago (CA) High School suspended Robert Bollong, who "deliberately" had a knife in his car - one that was part of a pre-packaged roadside emergency kit that his caring mother bought for him:

Drug-sniffing dogs at Santiago High School detected Bollong's asthma inhalers inside his truck parked at school. That's when security opened a bag behind the passenger's seat and found the utility knife. Bollong says the principal warned him "not to bring weapons to school, that someone could get hurt."

"He said that I put it in there intentionally," said Robert Bollong, who was suspended. But Bollong's family went right out and purchased emergency roadside kits from WalMart, Costco & Sam's Club and each carried utility knives just like the one that got Robert suspended.

I'm curious to know if Robert was being searched by drug-sniffing dogs for any particular reason, or if this was just another one of those random drug searches. If so, what gave officials the right to open a first-aid kit? And how dumb do they have to be to not understand why a utility knife might be included with a pre-packaged kit? Are they going to sue Wal-Mart on behalf of the school district now?

I'm so disgusted with these stories. The news that Jake Trembath ultimately is not going to be expelled for the cap gun in his car relieves my disgust a tiny, tiny bit (be sure to read the heart-wrenching comments in my original Jake posting), but I just can't imagine what these students and their families are going through. They must be utterly convinced that their local school boards are composed of nothing but morons. Well, not solely, I suppose, because three people did vote against expelling Jake - but three school board members did vote to expel him over a matter so trivial. I hope voters manage to "expel" those members in the very near future.

Update: And the moronic about zero-tolerance policies stories just keep on coming. The latest one? A 15-year-old asthmatic student in Conroe, Texas pulled out his inhaler to help save his girlfriend's life; also an asthmatic, she used the same prescription inhaler but had left hers at home that day. In the nurse's office, she began having serious trouble breathing, so she gratefully accepted the offer of her boyfriend's medication. She claims he saved her life.

The school district claims he was in violation of their zero-tolerance drug policy, reported him to the campus police, had him arrested, accused him of delivering drugs, suspended him from school for three days, and is threatening expulsion. Oh, and he faces juvenile detention on drug charges as well.

The school district hearing is Friday. This one pisses me off so bad I'm going to complain myself. Here's the school information:

Caney Creek High School

Principal: Dr. Greg Poole
16840 FM 2090
Conroe, TX 77306
(936)231.3330 (832)482.6212 (fax)936.231.7702

And here's the page with the names and email addresses of all the board members. I urge you to email them and let them know what you think of a school that would support a policy which might have resulted in a student's death. The principal claims that sharing an inhaler would have "allegedly" violated state law. Any decent principal would have understood that this situation violated the letter but not the spirit of the law, and damn the law if a student is in serious trouble. Instead, he seems more than willing to let the Good Samaritan suffer the burden.

Posted by kswygert at 04:16 PM | Comments (4)

September 30, 2003

Zero tolerance for untucked shirts

A school in Dallas, TX, is over-the-top in the zero tolerance department. The new dress code is being strictly enforced, to the point where an untucked shirt guarantees a student a suspension:

Teresa Montgomery said she was enraged when her straight-A student called her in tears telling her she was going to be suspended. "She is not a problem child; she's never been in trouble," Montgomery said.

Montgomery's daughter, Raylee, was suspended after an administrator noticed the 13-year-old girl's shirt had become untucked. The girl said she apologized, tucked in her shirt and asked if she could continue to class but was not allowed.

Administrators say dress code violations are more routine at the beginning of the school year, as students test the limits.

Or, as students slowly start to realize that utterly unintentional, innocuous acts are going to be punished severely. Over 700 students have been suspended in two months thanks to this draconian punishment system. And this improves the atmosphere of the high school how?

Of more than a dozen districts contacted by The Dallas Morning News, none suspend students for dress code violations unless they become disciplinary problems.

Terry Barnard, a Duncanville school board member, said the board asked administrators over the summer to tighten dress code enforcement after years of complaints that students were breaking the rules with no consequences.

Oookay. So they go all the way over into serious consequences for an untucked shirt. This is as absurd as no consequences. There's an argument to be made for dress codes; there's no argument to be made for scaring 13-year-olds into compliance with a set of standards so rigorous that teachers would not necessarily be able to comply with them.

It boggles the mind to think that the school is comfortable with giving teachers authority to suspend a student over an unintentional dress code violation, but doesn't trust those same teachers to simply tell students to tuck in their shirts, and make it stick. If the kid says no, or talks back, then the teacher can start to consider discliplinary options. Until then, just help the kids correct their clothing errors (are they going to start suspending girls for runs in their stockings too?) and get them to class on time.

Posted by kswygert at 02:00 PM | Comments (15)

September 22, 2003

Tolerating the intolerable

In an age when honor students get suspended because a steak knife or cap gun is found in their car, a group of football players at Mepham High School (NY) can get away with sexually attacking three younger teammates, and the school does virtually nothing until the press finds out about it. Michele of A Small Victory has the entire story at her site, and she has inside information on it because she's local to that area.

The three attacks took place at a football camp in Pennsylvania. There were apparently three separate attacks of sodomy, three attackers and three witnesses, all of whom threatened the victims with further violence if they told anyone. One victim, though, didn't stop bleeding for days afterward and was forced to tell his mother. I assume this was the same victim who required surgery to correct the damage.

The players at the camp knew about the attacks, but did not tell the coaches. Everyone was suffering under a code of silence meant to protect the attackers and witnesses and intimidate the victims and their families. When the story finally made the national news on Sept. 16th, the attackers had not even been suspended because a written statement from witnesses or victims had not been obtained.

Cap gun in your car? You're out, no excuses, no complaining.

Brutally sodomize younger teammates? Hey, as long as nobody signs anything, the school will sit on its hands.

This would be enough to enrage anyone, but Michele has more:

The media gets a hold of the story and all hell breaks loose. Adults become defensive. School officials feign horror. The students of the school become divided, with some saying - remaining anonymous in interviews - that the participants should be expelled, while the cheerleaders and football players rally 'round the molesters.

The school board holds a meeting and votes unanimously to cancel the football season.

And that leads us up to two days ago, when an impromptu protest was held at the school by students. Kids walked out of class and marched on to the football field, screaming out cheers in some warped version of a pep rally.

Oh, it wasn't all the kids. It was just the football players, the cheerleaders and a few stragglers who thought it was a good way to get out of class.

Michele is sickened by the support being shown for a corrupt group of teammates, and understands completely why canceling the football season is necessary. The team knew about brutal sexual assaults and did not tell the coaches. If the football players don't understand the concept of culpability in the eyes of the law, now's a good time for them to start.

Michele is astounded, and more than a little nauseated:

The loud protestations of those who are fuming at the school board makes you wonder who they think the victims of this whole thing are? Do they honestly think they have been wronged? What kind of homes do these people grow up in that they have the audacity and the smugness to prance around like they have been wronged when there are three boys - school mates of theirs - who have been basically raped by their fellow students?...

Watch this video of the protests. The parents of every single one of those boys and girls should be ashamed. Maybe when criminal charges are finally filed, these self-centered, spoiled brats who are acting like this is all a big joy ride to notoriety will wise up and realize the gravity of the situation...

Do I need to tell you why those statements make me sick?

It gets worse; one of the players who is accused of participating in the sexual assaults had been warned by school officials before the camp not to "harass" any other teammates. Michele neatly outlines the various groups who are to blame:

The fault for this whole episode begins with the parents of the accused players, for raising kids who think that they have the right to do this to people; the attackers themselves; the kids who watched and said nothing; the kids who found out later, knowing who the attackers were, and still said nothing; and the school for allowing a serious discipline problem to go unchecked and permitting this previously suspended football player to go on a school-sanctioned trip.

In other words, the fact that the school might have known about the brutality of one player beforehand doesn't place the fault of this all on the school. The attackers - and the witnesses - should face severe legal consequences. Michele fears a round of "Boys will be boys" defenses in court. I fear she's right.

By the way, the press releases for Mepham High stop at September 5th. Imagine that.

Posted by kswygert at 06:12 PM | Comments (5)

Fear of a cap gun

Devoted Reader and fellow vacciniumcorymbosumparthenophobe Erin (trust me, she knows what that long word means) sent along this tale of a horrible, violent student at Maple Grove (MN) High School (registration required). The student, Jake Trembath, has been suspended for an entire year, and good riddance. I mean, what was he thinking? Serving on the student council, playing lacrosse, and attending Bible class every morning - sure, those are fine things, but obviously they shouldn't outweigh having a cap gun accidently left in one's car while it was parked on school grounds:

As a result of finding a toy cap gun -- "painted to look more real," a school report said -- in Jake's car last week, Maple Grove school officials suspended the teen and have begun expulsion proceedings. Jake said the toy doesn't belong to him and he didn't know it was there.

The school officials aren't budging, because, according to the kid's father, "I think they believe that if they yield on Jake, the next kid who says 'I didn't know' will get off, too." Of course! Why, if you allow the innocent transportation of a pop gun, next thing you know, kids will be sneaking in water guns, slingshots, and those big Nerf bats. It'll be Columbine all over again.

Strangely, though, this school policy isn't doing much to create a quieter campus with more docile students - in fact, it appears to be creating the opposite situation:

Jake's friends and classmates have rallied. On Friday, Jake's sister Whitney brought home a petition signed by more than 300 students. It said: "Help Jake! We think that Jake was expelled for an unjust reason." Some are wearing "Free Jake" T-shirts to school, Whitney said...

For Jake, the anger is growing. He's been booted off the student council, his name has been removed from the banner lauding the Homecoming court. For a kid who recalls his last time in trouble as sitting in the principal's office for "flicking a staple" in the seventh grade, this is a hard lesson.

Jake should be mad. This is utterly ridiculous. These types of policies don't make kids feel safe on campus; instead, the students now walk on eggshells, fearful that Grandpa's fish knife or little Bobby's cap gun will find its way into their cars or their bookbags, and completely torch everything they've been working for so hard.

Local resident and uber-columnist James Lileks has more on the story. He has a delightfully precocious three-year-old daughter, and I believe he's starting to worry how her experiences with the public school system will develop:

Some cultural notes: We have one of those “zero tolerance” cases here, and I’m sure you can guess the details. Kid’s friends are playing around with cap gun. The gun migrates to the car in the course of weekend tomfoolery. Kid drives to school. Security guard notices gun in car while trolling the lot and peering through windows. Kid - who is a good student, and attends Bible class every morning for class - gets in trouble. And by “trouble” I mean he is suspended for the entire year.

For having a cap gun in his car in the parking lot...

Makes me wonder when my first lovely interaction with the public school system will be, and what form it will take. I should get it out of the way on day one: What’s your position on cap guns?

1. “We regard them as a violation of our zero tolerance policy, and will expel for the remainder of the year any student who has one.”

2. “Once a year we pass them out and the class reenacts the Charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg.”

James is much more in favor of the second answer, as am I.

Posted by kswygert at 09:43 AM | Comments (15)

August 07, 2003

The heartbreaking story of Philly's Smith Playground

I meant to blog about this a few weeks ago, but a comment today from one reader reminded me. It seems there's this lovely, historic playground in Philadelphia that has been a beloved outing spot for parents and kids for the last 104 years. Now, though, it's closed - because the owners don't have the $1 million needed to bring up it up to safety standards. Daily News reporter Ronnie Polaneczky's description of the playground is hilarious:

If you haven't been to Smith, you probably don't have children. But you don't need them to experience the thrill of wandering among playground equipment that reminds you so viscerally of your own childhood: that resilient world where, when you got hurt, you knew it was your own stupid fault and learned to be more careful next time.

Nary a piece of molded, litigation-free plastic dots Smith's six lush acres. Hardly a padded mat cushions jungle-gym dismounts.

Instead, you'll see sky-high metal slides, without oversize safety lips. Merry-go-rounds, with splintery seats, that spin fast enough to induce a good puke. Crazy-looking swings that sound like they've been creaking there forever - because they sort of have.

And a 12-foot-wide, wooden slide housed in a decrepit shed that screams, "Fire trap!"

My God, it's a fun place.

Polaneczky also noted that his daughter played more carefully on these swings and rides because she could tell that more care was required - unlike on today's personality-free plastic doodads.

Posted by kswygert at 03:23 PM | Comments (3)

August 06, 2003

Zero tolerance vs. civil rights

In Florida, the zero-tolerance supporters are locking horns with civil-rights groups. Who will come out on top?

...Indian River County's zero tolerance effort has been successful at curbing school violence without unnecessarily damaging children's scholastic futures with criminal records, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Detective Joe Flescher.

While some Indian River County School District officials agreed with Flescher, a recent study released by a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group has criticized the effort, calling zero tolerance a miserable failure that has replaced trips to the principal's office with trips to jail...

Florida's zero-tolerance law require the school districts to suspend or expel students for serious crimes only, and law enforcement officers must be contacted as well. The Advancement Project, which is the civil-rights group who did a study entitled "Derailed: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track," contradicts this policy by claiming that most arrests are for minor, not major, offenses.

For example, Palm Beach County last year saw a felony charge of throwing a deadly missile for a 15-year-old carrying an egg in his pocket on Halloween, and trespass charges against a 6-year-old for cutting across school property after hours. Broward County saw automatic expulsion for a student who found a knife in the seat of his school bus and tried to bring it to the driver's attention...

Thank God eggs, cutting across yards, and ratting to authority figures were not considered felonies when I was young - I never would have made it through elementary school.

In Indian River County, a total of 23 juveniles were arrested on school grounds in 2002, including nine weapon-related arrests and three-drug related arrests. Thus far this year, a 17-year-old high-school student was arrested for allegedly intending to deal cocaine and 9-year-old Sebastian resident was charged with felony battery after kicking his teacher in the groin.

Dealing drugs and assualting others is more serious, although I doubt whether anyone too young to understand the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor should be charged with either one.

Indian River County School Board Vice Chairman Herb Bailey hits the nail on the head with this statement:

"If you don't have it, where do you draw the line?" he said. "I don't see any unfair punishments here. I don't want any weapons or dugs on our campuses under any circumstances for the safety of our kids."

Schools don't know where to draw the lines anymore, and it's partially their fault. Dangerous kids have been mainstreamed into regular classes, all in the name of "egalitarianism." Lessons in manners and comportment are decried as elitist and stuffy. Schools back down to parents who sue when their kids are disciplined for shouting, cussing, acting out, or just being rude. For the past several decades, schools have been aiming for more "child-centered" warm and fuzzy ways of teaching, and these zero-tolerance rules are the unavoidable result of discovering that some kids will not choose on their own to behave.

Posted by kswygert at 11:23 AM | Comments (3)

June 19, 2003

The right to bear water pistols

You can't fault Annapolis (MD) lawmaker Cynthia Carter for not caring about her constituents, especially the children. Why, she cares so much that she wants a new law to ban most toy guns within city limits, with provisions for fining parents whose children play with the toys outdoors. Such toys "glamorize" guns, don't you know.

Clear or brightly-colored guns are off the hook, and alderman Carter insists that this solves the problem of all those bank robbers who use toy guns to hold up banks. Um, how often does that happen? And if a guy steals $10,000 using a fake Uzi, are there really no other felony charges that can stick to him? If someone's already committing a felony, what's so great about being able to slap a toy-gun misdemeanor charge on him? Does Carter really think this will deter crime?

And what prompted this boneheaded suggestion? Well, back in April, a 7-year-old boy marched into a Hollywood video store with a toy pistol and told employees he was there to hold up the store. The gun looked real, and the employees responded as though it were. Is it obvious to anyone other than me that the problem here is not with the toy gun? Where were this kid's parents? Why was he alone in a video store at such a young age? Where did he get the idea to hold up a store? Why should the kid's parents get fined if they didn't give him the gun, or thought he was in school? What good is it for the kid to learn that he shouldn't use a toy gun, when he should be learning not to be in a video store by himself, and not to pull pranks that resemble felonies?

If toy guns are now verboten, does this mean that real guns that resemble toy guns will soon be illegal?

This part is just hilarious:

Mrs. Carter is known for her efforts on toy guns. In 2000, Mrs. Carter organized a toy-gun buyback that yielded 12 toy guns.
Mrs. Carter said she anticipates full support from all council members. The council is made up of two Republicans and seven Democrats. She speculates that her greatest obstacle will be fathers, who she believes encourage their sons to play with guns and take them to target practice
.

Oh no, those terrible Fathers! How dare they try to safely initiate their kids into the world of sharpshooting and hunting with toy guns? Don't they know they should be overreacting when the kid buys a cheap cap gun? Why, they're well on the road to "robbing" video stores already!

Geez.

(Thansk to OpinionJournal's Best of the Web for the link.)

Posted by kswygert at 06:00 AM | Comments (5)

June 13, 2003

Oh, for Pete's sake....

A student at Jackson High (WA) learned the hard way that, nowadays, all students are presumed to be violent criminals until proven innocent. When it doubt, it's better to assume that a student is openly carrying a huge rifle to class, rather than a classroom prop for a Civil War presentation:

A prop designed to look like a 19th century musket for a Civil War presentation resulted in a lockdown at Jackson High and Heatherwood Middle schools, officials said. The lockdown began about 7:30 a.m. Monday after a parent reported seeing a normally attired 14-year-old boy carrying the prop on his way to Heatherwood in this suburb north of Seattle, police spokeswoman Becky Erk said.

What the parent thought was a gun had a barrel made from two broomsticks painted black with foil at the end and a block of wood covered in wood-grain paper to resemble the butt.

Police immediately began a search...The lockdown ended after about half an hour when Heatherwood officials reported finding the fake musket, which was confiscated by police.

Perhaps one can understand the observer's alarm, but why did police confiscate the prop? And why has the student been temporarily suspended? Because he appeared to be violating the no-weapons rule - but didn't actually possess a real weapon?

Posted by kswygert at 10:43 AM | Comments (3)
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