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Jewish World Review May 23, 2003/ 21 Iyar, 5763

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

'Powder puff' hazing suspensions offer rare lesson in consequences | Without irony, the attorney for one of the Glenbrook North High School students suspended for her part in the brutal "powder puff" hazing says his client will reject the school's conditional offer to allow her to graduate on time - "as a matter of principle." Interesting choice of words. Let's do talk about principle.

As a matter of principle, apparently, two of the 31 students (including four boys) suspended for beating fellow students and smearing them with feces and animal intestines as part of a hazing initiation have filed lawsuits against the Northbrook, Ill., school to try to block the punishment. In two separate lawsuits, Marnie Holz and another student identified only as "Jane Doe" have sued the school for reinstatement. They claim that the suspension and call for expulsion are unfairly punitive and exceed the school's authority. At Holz's court hearing Monday, school officials made what seems a generous offer under the circumstances: All suspended students would be allowed to graduate on time if they agree not to fight their expulsions and promise not to exploit the incident for personal gain, either through movie or book deals.

As a matter of principle, attorney Larry Kaplan said his client will decline the offer. Other students were still considering it. But no matter. Whatever students, attorneys and parents decide, the fact of the lawsuits helps solve once and for all the great mystery of how such a thing could have happened in the first place.

For those who missed the video, senior girls assaulted junior girls during a flag-football game. Two kegs of beer apparently helped lubricate the event, which escalated into a full-scale melee in which victims were splattered with paint, kicked, beaten, smeared with feces and animal intestines. Five girls were taken to the hospital with injuries, including one with a laceration requiring stitches and another with a broken ankle.

School officials were outraged and embarrassed, while students accused of the beatings were less than contrite. Indeed, judging from their comments in ensuing days, they seem to have found the adults' concern misplaced and weird. Probably they were just startled by the sight of adults - curious creatures with furrowed brows and judgmental attitudes. For clearly, as these lawsuits suggest, some of the girls in question have enjoyed lives relatively free of adult influence.

By adults, of course, I don't mean people of advanced chronological years. Age no more confers adulthood than a high school degree guarantees literacy. I'm talking about grown-ups - people who assume responsibility for their actions, accept consequences, and teach their children accordingly.

Indeed, as of Wednesday, two parents - Christine Neal, 49, and Marcy Spiwak, 49 - had been charged with buying the beer that helped the young ladies release their inner sadists. Neal is charged with buying three kegs of beer, two of which wound up at the playing field. The other keg reportedly was at Spiwak's home, where some of the little darlings gathered to loosen up before the brawl.

With adults like these, who needs juvenile delinquents? Yet some of the parents who have appealed to school officials for leniency, as well as those behind the lawsuits, want the school to ignore what happened, accusing officials of merely trying to "save face." They claim the suspension/expulsion will look bad on the girls' records and possibly interfere with college plans.

And their point would be? That behavior unbecoming our lowest life forms should not be condemned or punished?

By their interference with the school's attempt at discipline, the parents have clarified much of what has gone wrong in these kids' lives. Without consequences, actions have no meaning and therefore no moral relevancy. One thing is as good as another; lies are as good as truth. Good and bad, wassup w'dat?

Parents are right to be concerned about repercussions for their children. College applications these days directly ask whether a student has ever been suspended, expelled or otherwise disciplined. Students who answer "yes" have to provide details and often a corroborating letter from school officials. All other things being equal, it is unlikely that colleges will seek out troublemakers over others with clean records.

The consequence may be that some of the Glenbrook girls lose their place in the college of their choice. Objectively, that won't ruin their lives, will it? Learning from their parents that lying about or denying what needs fixing, on the other hand, just might. It really is a matter of principle.

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