Jewish World Review May 2, 2012/ 10 Iyar, 5772
Common sense needs to be taught . . . to school administrators
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | In the world of zero tolerance, common sense does not exist. It is not even in the vocabulary of most public school administrators who practice the dark art of persecution for anyone caught violating their twisted concept of security. In fact, "justice" is also nowhere to be found in the school manuals.
That is until recently when the Maryland State Board of Education made what hopefully will become a broad trend to restore some basic sanity to the way school administrators deal with cases of juvenile misjudgment -- on a case-by-case basis rather than one size fits all. The board overturned the obviously idiotic response of a county school board to an incident that needlessly disrupted the lives of two young athletes.
Acting on a tip that alcohol might be present during a road trip of the school's lacrosse team, the high school's principal and other administrators rushed to where the bus was being loaded. They ordered the individual equipment bags to be searched; they found a pocketknife in one bag and a lighter in another. Actually, before the knife was discovered, the owner informed the principal that he kept the knife in his kit to help repair his lacrosse stick. The lighter in another boy's duffle was for the same purpose of burning off loose ends of the webbing.
This kicked off a chain of events that, while not the worst of a slew of examples reported nationwide, nevertheless certifies the exuberance of school officials whose decision processes are as flawed as the zero concept. These include dozens of youngsters whose lives have been severely altered by mindless reaction to minor incidents, many of them committed unintentionally, including one case of suicide in Fairfax, Va., that led to the ouster of offending school board members.
The two "culprits" were ordered off the bus; one was led off in handcuffs, taken to the police station and fingerprinted, all at the whim of school officials. Both boys were suspended from school at a time when their attendance was crucial to their college hopes. They and their parents spent a year trying to win some relief from what they considered a case of gross injustice. These weren't trouble-making kids but disciplined young men whose story about using the knives and lighter as repair tools was verified by their coach and an assistant coach -- whose day job, by the way, was chief of homicide for the State Police.
When all else failed to budge the local school officials including the school board, the desperate parents went to the state but were warned that such matters were rarely overturned. That may have been so in the past, but the irresponsibility of the high school prosecuting team and its school board stooges was even abhorrent to the most hardened of those in the State Education Department. They did what was necessary to put things right: Both boys have been exonerated of any wrongdoing and have been admitted to the same university, where they will continue to play lacrosse.
It is interesting that during the process, the school district -- apparently realizing its financial liability -- offered a settlement to expunge the boy's records if the families promised not to sue. What does that tell you? Their offer was rejected as it should have been.
This matter is important because it may just be an initial breach in a policy that is as dangerous in its application as the tragedies it seeks to prevent. Certainly there are appropriate responses for infractions, even minor ones, but they should be tempered by circumstances. Most can be dealt with through reasonable disciplinary action such as detention or even warning. Finding an aspirin in a book bag or forgetting to take your scout knife out of your backpack after a hiking trip are hardly capital offenses.
Newspapers, like the Washington Post that reported this one, have been diligently in the forefront of drawing the public's attention to the inequities of a one-degree application of such policies. With any luck, the Maryland State Board's decision may be the beginning of bringing back common sense.
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