Saturday, October 6, 2007

Student charged despite lack of evidence

The Register-Herald, October 3 2007

A Woodrow Wilson High School student was arrested Wednesday and charged with bringing a weapon to school, Beckley police said.

The 17-year-old boy from the Beckley area was charged with bringing a dangerous weapon into an educational facility, Cpl. Sam McClure said. Police will obtain juvenile petitions against the boy. He was released to a guardian’s custody.

Wednesday morning, school officials told police a student reportedly had a handgun in his possession, McClure said. The campus was placed under lockdown and searched by K-9 units. No weapon was found.

However, police obtained witness statements at the scene, McClure said. Based on information gathered in the investigation, police charged the boy, believing he had brought a weapon to school at some other point.

Woodrow Principal Bob Maynard said the lockdown began around 8:45 a.m. and ended around 10:15 a.m. During a lockdown, all students are kept inside classrooms and no one is allowed in the hallways.

Maynard said Beckley police officers and their K-9 units would have been at the school Wednesday anyway for a random search. During that time, school personnel received the gun report.

“They were there for a random search, and they happened to be there when the report of the weapon was made,” Maynard said.

“(The K-9s) are very useful and prevalent. They are a good tool to have to help schools out. We have a good working relationship with the Beckley Police Department.”

Personnel at Woodrow will always work to ensure the school is a safe environment for all students, Maynard said.

Witness statements are cause for investigation, but to return no evidence and yet still arrest the accused on the same charges is a heinous presumption of guilt. In our justice system, the enforcers first must prove that a crime was committed; then the judicial system determines whether the crime was committed by the accused. The crime is based on possession of a weapon, and if none can be found then the accusations are nothing but hearsay. I hope the family's lawyer rips apart the police's procedures at the hearing.

"The arrest was based on witness reports that led police to believe the boy had brought a gun to school at some point." How much more uncertain and ambiguous can we get? How can we tolerate this kind of attack on our freedom? And how ironic that it is all in the name of safety; where anyone can be accused, arrested, and charged for vaguely defined crimes in the past or present, and have their lives ruined without a shred of evidence, then NOBODY is safe.

We need to be reminded that "Freedom" and "Liberty" are not merely words or mottoes or political tokens, they are genuine ideas that need our support. If you want to argue that 'freedom is not free' then I challenge you to dismiss charges against this student and have the school formally apologize to him. Freedom means freedom from fear, from oppression, from tyranny and from persecution, and this student--like all Americans--has a right to be free.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Judge OKs Anti-Uniform Buttons

Associated Press, September 20 2007

Two Bayonne students can wear buttons featuring a picture of Hitler Youth to protest a school uniform policy, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. sided with the parents of the students, who had been threatened with suspension by the Bayonne school district last fall for wearing the buttons.

However, the judge added in his ruling that the boys will not be allowed to distribute the buttons at school.

"We're very pleased with the decision," said Laura DePinto, whose son wore the badge. "It's essentially confirming that students have the right to express their opinion and to peacefully protest."

Asked if her son would resume wearing the emblem, DePinto said that would be a matter for a "family discussion."

Citing a 1969 case in Iowa involving students who wore black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War, Greenaway wrote that "a student may not be punished for merely expressing views unless the school has reason to believe that the speech or expression will 'materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.'"

Greenaway's decision "follows the law as we saw it going in," said Karin R. White Morgen, an attorney representing both boys' families

The buttons bear the words "no school uniforms" with a slash through them superimposed on a photo of young boys wearing identical shirts and neckerchiefs. There are no swastikas visible on the buttons, but the parties agreed that they depict members of Hitler Youth.

Bayonne Superintendent of Schools Patricia L. McGeehan said the school district was disappointed in the decision and would review its legal options.

"We are very concerned with the precedent this may set, not only for Bayonne but for every public school district in New Jersey that tries to create and maintain a school environment conducive to learning and that is not offensive to students and staff," McGeehan said.

Earlier in the day, Board of Education attorney Kenneth Hampton said he doubted that the district would challenge the decision.

"It would not be worth the dollars to appeal this further," he said.

Bayonne instituted mandatory uniforms last September for grades K-8, and fifth-grader Michael DePinto wore the button several times before objections were raised in November, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

In a letter dated Nov. 16, 2006, Janice Lo Re, principal of Public School 14, notified Laura DePinto that her son "will be subject to suspension" for wearing the button in school.

Parents of the other student, Anthony LaRocco, a seventh-grader at the Woodrow Wilson School, received a similar letter from principal Catherine Quinn.

Neither boy has worn the button since the lawsuit was filed, Morgen said.

An excellent ruling in support of civil liberties. The students were highly aware of the issues present in schools today and the issues surrounding school uniforms, and sought to protest in an effective but reasonable manner. The school of course overstepped their authority and suspended the students for their expression of their views.

The social and political issues represented here were important enough that the suggestion of offensiveness has no legal grounding--we have a right to freedom of speech, regardless of who is offended, because more often than not it is the very people we are offending who need most to hear the message. Furthermore, the buttons were condemning the Nazis and Fascism, not endorsing them. The school's position was not one of preventing hate groups, but of suppressing a highly unflattering comparison, one not entirely without merit.

If the school district is trying to "create and maintain a school environment conducive to learning" then they could start in their history classes, discussing the formation of the Hitler Youth, the Vietnam student protests, and the exercising of the First Amendment. If the want an environment "that is not offensive to students and staff" then perhaps they shouldn't introduce policies that invite such comparison.

If students exercising their civil liberties in a responsible and appropriate manner offends your sensibilities, and you take disciplinary and legal action to restrict their rights, then you are no better than the fascists they are comparing you to. The Bill of Rights was written to prevent the Tyrrany of the Majority, where one group tramples over the rights of the rest through force. The issue is more important than ever today, and thankfully the students, their parents, and Judge Greenaway is aware of this. I hope they continue to wear the buttons and find solidarity with their fellow students and their teachers.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Schools monitor 'inappropriate' dancing

Chicago Sun-Times, September 16 2007

Fliers announcing this month's Evanston Township High School homecoming dance carry the warning: "salacious or inappropriate dancing" -- often called "juking" -- is outlawed. Dance tickets at Naperville North High are even more specific: "sexually explicit" and "front-to-back dancing will not be permitted." As the homecoming dance season approaches, Chicago-area schools are wrestling with how to stomp out sexually suggestive dancing, or juking, especially one version in which a girl grinds into a boy, her back to his front.

"It's simulated sex. That's my definition of juking, and scarily, the kids are very good at it," said Bruce Romain, Evanston Township High associate principal. "We don't think it's school-appropriate."

Locally, the latest versions of dirty dancing have become such a concern that, for the first time, a group of Illinois administrators who run high school dances will take up the topic at their November convention. Plans for a seminar titled "Dr. No: Controlling Your Dance" grew out of repeated requests from members of the Illinois Directors of Student Activities for ideas on how to handle suggestive dancing, said the group's president, Therese McLaughlin.

"Everybody is running into it," said McLaughlin, athletic director at Thornton Fractional North in Calumet City.

Some kids say adults take juking more seriously than they do. "It sounds all sexual, but pretty much, you're just dancing and having fun," said Kimberly Davis, 18, a June graduate of West Leyden High in Northlake.

Fueled by images on music videos, juking can be found among city and suburban kids, black, white and Hispanic. Intensity levels vary. Even some middle schoolers are doing it. Two middle school couples at Chicago's Talman Elementary had to be ejected from the Halloween Dance last year because of their suggestive front-to-back dance moves.

"They were emulating what they see on TV," said Talman Assistant Principal Joseph Shoffner.

Oak Park's Julian Junior High has started making kids sign a "no juke dancing" agreement if they want to attend the eighth-grade dance. Last year, said Principal Victoria Shartz, "I thought it worked very well."

Spotting dancers who cross the line can be especially difficult in schools where hundreds of kids pack a dance floor and gravitate into clumps, sometimes even encircling jukers and protecting them from ready view. A change of perspective helps. Oak Park-River Forest High positions staff on three risers against the dance hall wall so they can look down into the crowd, said Cindy Milojevic, OPRF assistant principal for student activities.

"It allows our security to see what's going on a bit more clearly," Milojevic said.

During dances at Chicago's Senn High, a security guard -- armed with a walkie-talkie and stationed in the gym balcony -- calls in the location of offending dancers to staffers on the gym dance floor, said Principal Richard Norman. "No juking" signs are plastered around the gym. Naperville North also uses chaperones in the balconies, but arms them with cell phones -- part of a crackdown that began after a particularly wild 2003 homecoming dance. That year, said activities director Jennifer Baumgartner, "the dancing was horrible. It was inappropriate, a lot of front-to-back dancing. . . . We are not promoting a nightclub atmosphere. It's still a school dance." The gyrating was so racy, Baumgartner said, even some students complained. "We had a lot of kids, this was their first experience at a school dance and they weren't comfortable with it.'' As a result, all dance tickets now specifically prohibit "front-to-back dancing" and "sexually explicit" moves, Baumgartner said. The policy also is posted in student handbooks and mentioned at class assemblies.

In addition, Naperville North has doubled its number of chaperones and breaks up "techno house music" that often accompanies juking with "older stuff," Baumgartner said. Violators are ejected, must call their parents immediately and can't attend the next dance, Baumgartner said. "This is year four that we are going into this policy, and kids know now [what's expected]," Baumgartner said. In fact, she said, attendance at the turnaround dance that caused the initial crackdown is up by 800 kids, to about 1,700 students.

Evanston High staff sat down with its student council to craft some guidelines after what seemed to be a new low during the 2004 homecoming dance, which featured mostly hip-hop music.

School officials were concerned about "simulated sex" dancing and boys who were spotted leaning against a wall, each with a girl bent over in front of him, grinding her rear into her partner's crotch. "Even some students complained that this was ridiculous," Associate Principal Romain said.

During a meeting with student council members, kids insisted, "This is how we dance. Weren't you young once?" Romain recalled. "I said to them, 'If I asked you to dance at homecoming, would you expect me to juke with you?' They said, 'No, that's different.' I said, 'Well, this is different, too. We're not in someone's basement.'"

By 2005, new rules emerged: "The feet stay on the floor. The hands stay off the floor. They can't lean against the wall. And they must dance in an upright position," Romain said. And, for the third year, even parents are being told in writing that "salacious" dancing and "juking" is prohibited. "It's still a concern," Romain said. But "I felt much better last year with the way things went."

Some kids say juking is a way for girls to gain attention and project sexiness. At some schools, it's almost a competitive sport. "In high school it's all about . . . who can do the craziest position," said Jasmine Conner, 18, who saw kids sneak in some racy moves at Homewood-Flossmoor High dances before her June graduation. "What girl can juke better than this girl?. . . .

"Juking is like, if I can be perfectly honest, it's kind of like sex, but with all your clothes on. It's just a good old grinding on a guy, to the beat of the music, [with] you backed up in front of him." For kids, the suggestive gyrations of juking may be "a symbolic way of showing that they are grown up," said Bernard Beck, emeritus professor of sociology at Northwestern University.

"Grownups are sexual and they [kids] are projecting the fact that they are sexual," Beck said. Though some adults may wonder what's next on the dance floor, Beck said, "there's always something." "One of the things about culture is it's creative," Beck said. "There's always room for invention. There's always room for shock."

"We are not promoting a nightclub atmosphere. It's still a school dance.

THIS JUST IN: The Ed Sullivan Show has decided to broadcast Elvis Presley from the WAIST UP, citing "salacious or inappropriate dancing." New groundbreaking studies from the Vatican also report that dancing is "suggestive" and "lewd." A leading social theorist released this statement:

"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"
-Plato, 4th century BC

Raunchiness is part of youth, and increasing raunchiness is part of cultural shift. The teens are supposed to relax and have fun. The school does have the responsibility to check in with the complaints of the students who are uncomfortable with it, but trying to "stomp out sexually suggestive dancing" would basically stomp out dancing altogether. The school has the right to manage their dances however they like--after all, the kids aren't required to show up--but they should know what their students expect.

So if you don't want that sort of thing at your event, turn off the hip-hop and club/house/trance beats. How about something nice and clean, like, say, waltzing? Oh, wait...

"The indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced ... at the English Court on Friday last ... It is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies ... to see that it is far indeed removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is ... forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion."
- The Times of London, 1816

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Water Pistol Prizes confiscated

Albany Times-Union, September 13 2007

A Common Council member criticized the Albany Public Library for handing out water pistols as prizes for students who read four books this summer.

Council member James P. Sano, a Democrat, said the library's Pine Hills branch sent the wrong message to children at a time the city has formed a task force on gun violence.

"They must have been out of rubber knives and candy cigarettes that day," Sano said as he waved the toy gun during the council's caucus last week. "They couldn't give out books or bookmarks?"

Tim Burke, the acting director of the library, said it was a mistake that won't happen again.

"They buy these bulk packages of prizes that included a couple of those," he said. "It was just a few out of many, many prizes we handed out."

Sano said he took the water pistol from a 9-year-old boy while working as a lifeguard, and the child told him where he had received it.

"I was surprised and disappointed that this was a prize that was given away," he said. "We shouldn't send mixed messages to kids that we give a replica of a firearm."

The issue is especially sensitive after Shahied Oliver, 15, of Albany was gunned down Aug. 18 at a birthday party in the Skyline Gardens Apartments in Arbor Hill.

Another 15-year-old, Nahjaliek McCall of Green Street, has been charged with the murder and pleaded not guilty last week in Albany County Court.

This year's statewide theme for the library reading program was "Get a Clue at Your Library." Burke suspects the water pistols were meant to go along with the detective theme, but said he wishes they were not given out.

"We certainly should have been more sensitive about that," he said.

The reading program aims to help keep kids off the street and out of trouble, Burke said. This year, 800 children and teenagers participated, reading a total of 3,400 books.

"It was a wonderful, successful summer reading program that is meant to teach kids to do important things instead of hanging around with guns and drugs," he said. "We would like to take that back if we could."
Council members stealing toys from children! Equating water pistols with firearms! Nullifying the rewards of a summer reading program! This is so wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to begin. Associating squirt guns--cheap, fluorescent-colored pieces of plastic enjoyed by millions for generations--with gun violence, does absolutely nothing to help the problem. I really can't argue this except to boil it down to bullet points (thanks Thisbymaster from Fark)
  • Giving out summer toys as prizes: GOOD
  • Lifeguard that took a water gun out of a kid's hand: DUMBASS
  • Common Council: DUMBASS
  • Rewarding children that read: GOOD
  • Getting children outside to play with water guns: GOOD
  • Complaining about water guns because of unrelated gun incidences:DUMBASS
  • Teaching children that they have no rights and should just sit inside getting fatter: DUMBASS
  • People who freak out just because they see the word "gun": DUMBASS
I'm nearly as terrified to think about a country run by hardcore communists like these as I am thinking about a country run by hardcore fascists like I've written about before. Talk about living in fear.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

School policy prevents calling 911

New York Daily News, September 11th 2007

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein yesterday vowed to investigate a Queens high school policy that may have cost a teen girl her health.

The Daily News reported yesterday an official at Jamaica High School barred school deans from calling 911 in an emergency - just weeks before 14-year-old Mariya Fatima suffered a stroke her family says could have been less devastating.

Klein called this a violation of Department of Education policy and instructions he had sent to principals early this year.

"We'll look into it and take appropriate action," he said.

Former Jamaica Assistant Principal Guy Venezia sent a memo to school deans on April 12 banning 911 calls "for any reason."

Mariya began to vomit at school on April 27 and collapsed in the hall, but her family says help did not arrive until 90 minutes later.

"If they called 911 early, it is possible she can be in better shape," said Mariya's mom, Liaquat Begum, a recent immigrant from India. "She was a very good student. Now she is not reading properly."

"They did nothing," Mariya said after limping into her lawyer's office to meet with reporters yesterday.

Since her stroke, Mariya has had trouble walking. She has no use of her right hand, and her family says the 10th-grader is reading at a fifth-grade level.

Mariya's lawyer Gary Carlton blamed the pressure on principals to improve school safety - or at least to give the appearance that they had.

A 911 call leaves a paper trail that can't be covered up, and Jamaica was already on the city's list of most dangerous schools.

"This happened because statistics are more important than anyone's life," Carlton said.

Teachers union President Randi Weingarten made a similar allegation. "This is a tragic result of what happens when everything comes down to data," she said. "If there's only a hammer when people report crime, then people are going to continue to hide their incidents."

Klein said the Jamaica policy was an isolated incident.

"Our principals are reporting faithfully and honestly," he said. "In a system with 1,450 schools, you can always have aberrations, but don't jump to conclusions from that."

Mariya's family would not be the first to sue over a 911 ban.

The News reported in January that the family of 11-year-old Shawn Martinez is suing over the boy's death in 2003 after an asthma attack at Brooklyn's Public School 20. The family claims the school prohibited nurses from calling 911.

Following that report, Klein sent a note to city principals stressing that all staff should call 911 in an emergency. Venezia's memo went out three months later.

Venezia, now a teacher at Hillcrest High School in Queens, declined comment.

Former Jamaica Principal Jay Dickler could not be reached. He was removed from the school this summer because crime there was too high, Klein said. "I met with him on numerous occasions about safety at the school, and that's why he was removed," Klein said.

Outside the school yesterday, students and staff expressed shock that the no-call policy was ever in place.

"It's wrong," senior Gladys Macias said. "They should have just called to get her help as soon as possible. I would have wanted that to happen for me, of course, or for anybody."

What a terrible tragedy--a policy prohibiting schools from reporting crimes to improve their image has left a student irreversibly brain damaged. I can think of no policy further from the welfare of the students than this.

Instead of taking steps to prevent crime, they took steps to prevent the reporting of crime. This is analogous to fixing your wet basement by keeping it flooded year-round. Attempting to fudge numbers and cover up a very real problem solves nothing but has led to the horrible events reported here. The administrators are guilty of deliberate and criminal negligence in this case for all the worst reasons imaginable. Let us pray justice is served.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Texas Pledge Inserts 'Under God'

Houston Chronicle, August 2 2007

Texas students will have four more words to remember when they head back to class this month and begin reciting the state's pledge of allegiance.

This year's Legislature added the phrase "one state under God" to the pledge, which is part of a required morning ritual in Texas public schools along with the pledge to the U.S. flag and a moment of silence.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, who sponsored the bill, said it had always bothered her that God was omitted in the state's pledge.

"Personally, I felt like the Texas pledge had a big old hole in it, and it occurred to me, 'You know what? We need to fix that,' " said Riddle, R-Tomball. "Our Texas pledge is perfectly OK like it is with the exception of acknowledging that just as we are one nation under God, we are one state under God as well."

By law, students who object to saying the pledge or making the reference to God can bring a written note from home excusing them from participating.

But adding that phrase has drawn criticism from some who say it's unnecessary and potentially harmful to children who don't share the same religious beliefs. "Most Texans do not need to say this new version of the pledge in order to be either patriotic or religious," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "This is the kind of politicking of religion that disturbs many Americans, including those who are deeply religious."

The revised wording in the Texas pledge took effect on June 15, and the Texas Education Agency sent an e-mail reminding school districts about the change earlier this week.

Officials with Houston-area districts say they will notify schools and parents about the new requirement.

Rebecca Suarez, spokeswoman for the Houston Independent School District, said a letter about the change will be sent home to parents when their children return to school. And a flier with the pledge's revised wording will be sent to each campus before classes start.

Texas has had a pledge of allegiance since 1933. In 2003, the Legislature required all schools to pledge allegiance to the U.S. and Texas flags and observe a moment of silence every morning at the beginning of classes.

Texas isn't the only state that has its own pledge of allegiance. Other states include Michigan, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Mississippi and Louisiana mention God in their pledges. And Kentucky lays claim to being blessed with "grace from on High."

It saddens me to see that, far from removing the phrase 'under God' from the national Pledge of Allegiance, there are legislatures now actively ADDING these words into state pledges.

Regardless of your own theistic or atheistic leanings, there is absolutely no reason to edit this phrase into a mandatory pledge except as a means of asserting or ascribing superiority of a political entity (the state) to a specific religious one (God.)

The original phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge in 1954, at the height of the Cold War and at a time when American life was dominated by conflict with the Soviet Union. Like Rep. Riddle, President Eisenhower saw 'a gap' in the pledge. After hearing a sermon, Eisenhower initiated a bill to change the pledge:
"Last Sunday, the President of the United States and his family occupied the pew where Abraham Lincoln worshipped. The pastor, the Reverend George M. Docherty, suggested the change in our Pledge of Allegiance that I have offered [as a bill]. Dr. Docherty delivered a wise sermon. He said that as a native of Scotland come to these shores he could appreciate the pledge as something more than a hollow verse taught to children for memory. I would like to quote from his words. He said, 'there was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life.' Mr. Speaker, I think Mr. Docherty hit the nail square on the head."
Unfortunately the politicians of the era had misinterpreted history. "The characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life" was not belief in God, but rather the freedom to believe in God. What set America apart from the Soviets was not that we had religion and they did not, but that we had a freedom to choose our religion and they did not. And freedom of choice, of course, means freedom to worship Elohim, Yahweh, Allah, Brahman, the Goddess, Apollo or the Flying Spaghetti Monster--or none at all. Ascribing America's position as a superpower to the Abrahamic God is not only historically incorrect but insensitive and unconstitutional. For political reasons, however, the phrase was included in the daily pledge recited by millions of schoolchildren every day.

Not only has this phrase not been excised, but religious groups--including former president G.H.W. Bush!--have used it to persecute atheists, polytheists, pluralists and other assorted non-Christians by claiming that "This is one nation, Under God" and so members of the aforementioned groups are unpatriotic or not considered citizens. This is clearly in conflict with the concept of religious freedom established in the Constitution, which every politician is sworn to uphold.

Recent challenges to the mandatory Pledge recitation have met with success, though efforts to remove the phrase entirely have made little progress... and given the direction this country's governing bodies are moving in, will likely remain in place for some time. Students are no longer required to pledge, nor do they need a note from home. However those who object to the Pledge itself, or its content, are made conspicuous as dissenters which probably has a chilling effect upon their decision.

Rep. Riddle, and the rest of the Texas legislature, seem totally oblivious to all this history. The new law not only requires the mandatory pledge of both National and State pledges, but puts additional emphasis on the phrase "Under God" and requires notes for those who wish to opt out. All three are unconstitutional, all three are infringing upon students' rights, and all three serve more to bring us closer to our enemies' states of mind than they do to distance us from their ideology. Americans everywhere should regard the flippant consideration given this bill and the ease at which it passed into law as deeply disturbing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Parody of principal no reason for suspension

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 12 2007

A U.S. District Court judge ruled that Hermitage School District violated a former student's First Amendment rights when it punished him for setting up a lowbrow parody profile of his principal on

Judge Terrace F. McVerry ruled on Tuesday that the school district was not authorized to suspend the former high school senior, Justin Layshock, after he created the crude Internet profile of then-Hickory High School Principal Eric Trosch.

Mr. Layshock, now a 19-year-old freshman studying French at St. John's University in New York, created the profane profile of Mr. Trosch in December 2005 while using the social networking Web site at his grandmother's house.

"The mere fact the Internet may be accessed at school does not authorize school officials to become censors of the World Wide Web," Judge McVerry wrote. "Public schools are vital institutions, but their reach is not unlimited."

The judge stressed that schools have the right to control matters within the scope of their activities, "but they must share the supervision of children with other equally vital institutions such as families, churches, community organizations and the judicial system."

As part of his order, Judge McVerry also ruled that Mr. Layshock may seek compensatory damages in a jury trial.

Soon after the profile appeared, the school launched an investigation to find out who had created the fake profile.

After Mr. Layshock stepped forward as the creator of the profile, school administrators suspended him for 10 days, placed him in an alternative curriculum education program and barred him from attending his high school graduation.

Administrators reasoned that Mr. Layshock's lewd description of the principal had significantly disrupted proceedings at the school and caused substantial disturbance in school operations.

Mr. Trosch, now principal of Hermitage Middle School, said previously that he broke into tears when he talked to fellow administrators and teachers at the school about the profile.

In a court deposition, Mr. Trosch said his daughter, a 10th-grader at the school, first alerted him about the profile after she came home and was upset about it.

"It's degrading. It's demeaning. It's shocking," he said in the deposition. "It's shocking when a profile was forged about you."

Mr. Layshock, who is volunteering this summer at an orphanage in the small West African nation of Togo, learned of the decision yesterday when he called his mother.

"He was surprised," Cheryl Layshock said.

"The school definitely abused their power and went beyond their jurisdiction," she said.

Sara Rose, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who assisted the Layshocks in their case, said this was the fourth time that Pennsylvania school districts had unsuccessfully tried to intervene in off-campus Internet activities of their students.

"You would hope after the fourth time that school districts would learn that after students leave school they can't play parent," said Ms. Rose.

Appropriately, the courts have put the brakes on the amount of control schools can have over their students' lives outside the classroom. The ACLU has tons of horror stories where they've taken school districts to court to defend the rights and freedoms of individual students.
Organizations like these help everyone to defend their individual liberties, but we have a responsibility to use them wisely. I hope Justin will exercise better judgment in the future and keep his criticisms in good faith, and not succumb to cruelty.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gay pair's photo blacked out of yearbook

Newark Star-Ledger, June 22 2007

A photograph of an East Side High School student kissing his boyfriend was blacked out of every copy of the school's yearbook by Newark school officials who decided it was inappropriate.

Andre Jackson said he never thought he would offend anyone when he bought a page in the yearbook and filled it with several photographs, including one of him kissing his boyfriend.

But Newark Superintendent of Schools Marion Bolden called the photograph "illicit" and ordered it blacked out of the $85 yearbook before it was distributed to students at a banquet for graduating seniors Thursday.

"It looked provocative," she said. "If it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blacked out. It's how they posed for the picture."

Russell Garris, the assistant superintendent who oversees the city's high schools, brought the photograph to Bolden's attention Thursday afternoon. He was concerned the picture would be controversial and upsetting to parents, Bolden said.

There are several photos of heterosexual couples kissing in the yearbook, but the superintendent said she didn't review the entire yearbook and was presented only with Jackson's page.

Ripping the page out entirely was considered but, Bolden said, it was decided blacking it out with a marker would lessen the damage to the yearbooks.

Jackson said he showed up at the banquet, excited to collect his yearbook. He'd paid an additional $150 for the special tribute page filled with shots of boyfriend David Escobales, 19, of Allentown, Pa., and others. Jackson learned what happened to his page moments before the books were distributed.

While the students waited, staff members in another room blacked out the 4½-by-5-inch picture from approximately 230 books.

"I don't understand," said Jackson, 18. "There is no rule about no gay pictures, no guys kissing. Guys and girls kissing made it in."

East Side's is like most high school yearbooks. About 80 pages in the roughly 100-page tome is dedicated to class photos, formal shots of seniors, candids and spreads dedicated to a variety of sports teams and academic clubs.

The back of the book is a collection of tributes where students designed pages filled with pictures depicting them with their families, girlfriends and boyfriends, and friends.

Rules for publication of the pages prohibited shots of gang signs, rude gestures and graphic photos, said Benilde Barroqueiro, an East Side senior graduating with Jackson.

"You know, it couldn't be too provocative. No making out, no tongue," she said.

Students were surprised when they opened their books and found Jackson's picture had been covered with marker, Barroqueiro said.

"He purchased the page and fell under the rules," she said. "If they want to kiss, that's their page. If you don't like it, don't look at it."

It's crystal clear that this blatant and wholly unnecessary censorship was driven by the superintendents' personal prejudices. Instituting a rule or regulation about appropriate photographs is is fine, but this demonstrates an obvious anti-homosexual bias.

The assistant superintendent found the photo to be "inappropriate" "illicit" "controversial and upsetting" and selected it out of all the other photos on 100 pages for special treatment: blacking out with marker on every copy of the yearbook, while the students waited for them in the next room. For the exorbitant prices the school charges for the books and the tribute pages, for the administrators to make such a biased judgment call and then to handle it so heavy-handedly is criminal.

It's been noted that the bias seen today against homosexuals has parallels to discriminatory policies of the past. Consider if the administrators had blacked out a photo of an interracial kiss, and read the comments again. It's the same attitudes, by the same sorts of people, just in a new era. We've made a lot of progress on the civil rights and tolerance frontier (this couple is probably not in danger of being lynched) but to continue making progress it's necessary to be aware of and condemn behavior like this.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

High-fives could mean detention for students

AP, June 18 2007

VIENNA, Virginia (AP) -- A show of affection almost landed a teenage boy in detention.

Hugging was 13-year-old Hal Beaulieu's crime when he sat next to his girlfriend at lunch a few months ago and put his arm around her shoulder. He was let off with a warning, but the cost of a repeat offense could be detention.

A rule against physical contact at Kilmer Middle School, about 10 miles west of Washington, is so strict that students can be sent to the principal's office for hugging, holding hands or even high-fiving.

"I think hugging is a good thing," said Hal, a seventh-grader. "I put my arm around her. It was like for 15 seconds. I didn't think it would be a big deal."

Unlike some schools, which ban fighting or inappropriate touching, Kilmer Middle School bans all touching.

But that doesn't seem necessary to Hal and his parents. They've sent a letter asking the county school board to review the rule.

But at a school of 1,100 students that was meant to accommodate 850, school officials think touching can turn into a big deal. They've seen pokes lead to fights, gang signs in the form of handshakes and girls who are uncomfortable being hugged but embarrassed to say anything.

"You get into shades of gray," Kilmer Principal Deborah Hernandez said. "The kids say, 'If he can high-five, then I can do this.' "

Hernandez said the no-touching rule is meant to ensure that students are comfortable and that crowded hallways and lunchrooms stay safe. She said school officials are allowed to use their judgment in enforcing the rule. Typically, only repeat offenders are reprimanded.

In case you missed that, allow me to quote: "the no-touching rule is meant to ensure that students are comfortable." How comfortable are the students in an environment where they have to live in dire fear of coming into physical contact with another student?

The old admonishment 'Keep your hands to yourself' is good advice but to take it to such extremes as this is ridiculous. We can only assume the school district has banned all contact sports such as football or wrestling, as well as playground games such as tag.

There are infinitely many ways of provoking fights, identifying gang members, or communicating discomfort that don't mean punishing students for touching each other... and in an overcrowded school like this, it's pretty much inevitable.

The more rules and regulations and requirements that are put upon the public, the more irrational and paranoid and alienated we're becoming. The best way to get through airline security, it seems, is to be stripped naked, have your body cavities evacuated, and be cryogenically frozen for the duration of the flight. Today's model student is nothing more than an automata, still and silent, kept placid through drugs and passive through conditioning.

This is a school. What are our kids learning? And how badly are we stunting their development? What will a future generation raised on these tactics be like, if not a flock of sheep?

I simply cannot think of a more appropriate place to post this video, and this blog's namesake.
You can see it in top quality on DVD with the rest of The Wall, an incredible film in its own right.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

AP reports on Zero Tolerance backlash

Associated Press, June 15 2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Fifth-graders in California who adorned their mortarboards with tiny toy plastic soldiers this week to support troops in Iraq were forced to cut off their miniature weapons. A Utah boy was suspended for giving his cousin a cold pill prescribed to both students. In Rhode Island, a kindergartner was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school so he could cut cookies.

It's all part of "zero tolerance" rules, which typically mandate severe punishments for weapons and drug offenses regardless of the circumstances.

Lawmakers in several states say the strict policies in schools have resulted in many punishments that lack common sense, and are seeking to loosen the restrictions.

"A machete is not the same as a butter knife. A water gun is not the same as a gun loaded with bullets," said Rhode Island state Sen. Daniel Issa, a former school board member who worries that no-tolerance rules are applied blindly and too rigidly.

Issa sponsored a bill requiring school districts to decide punishments for alcohol, drug and non-firearm weapon violations on a case-by-case basis after weighing the circumstances. It passed the Senate and House and now heads for the governor's desk.

Some have long been aware of the problems of zero tolerance. For the last decade, Mississippi has allowed local school districts to reduce previously mandatory one-year expulsions for violence, weapons and drug offenses.

More recently, Texas lawmakers have also moved to tone down their state's zero-tolerance rules. Utah altered its zero-tolerance policy on drugs so asthmatic students can carry inhalers. The American Bar Association has recommended ending zero-tolerance policies, while the American Psychological Association wants the most draconian codes changed.

"It may be a bit of self-correction that you're beginning to see where the pendulum is coming back," said Kathy Christie, vice president of a research clearinghouse for Education Commission of the States in Denver.

A decade ago, more than three-quarters of public schools surveyed reported adopting some version of a no-tolerance policy, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

"Zero tolerance" became a popular political buzzword during the waning days of the Reagan administration's "War On Drugs," and the rules spread rapidly after a series of high-profile school shootings, according to a report issued last year by the American Psychological Association.

A 1997 survey of more than 1,200 public schools by the U.S. Department of Education found that 79 percent had zero-tolerance policies against violence, 88 percent for drugs, 91 percent for weapons and 94 percent for firearms.

Some parents have mixed feelings about zero-tolerance rules. Christine Duckworth, 50, is the mother of an 18-year-old daughter who just graduated Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island, which has a zero-tolerance policy.

Duckworth said she wanted her daughter safe at school, but she said rules must reflect that teenagers make mistakes.

"I think there's pretty much always a gray area," she said. "You're dealing with individuals. How can you possibly apply one law to every single person and their circumstances?"

There are some signs that policies could be changing.

Texas decided in 2005 that schools can consider students' intent and other mitigating factors before punishing them for any offenses other than those involving firearms, and Rep. Rob Eissler said he wants the weighing of those factors to be mandatory.

"It's hard to legislate common sense," he said. "If we get intent into part of the code, I think we'll be in good shape."

Critics of zero-tolerance rules cite multiple problems. Academic achievement often lags in schools with the highest rates of suspension and expulsion, even when socio-economic factors are taken into consideration, said Cecil Reynolds, chairman of the APA's Zero Tolerance Taskforce.

"The kids feel like they're walking on egg shells," he said.

Reynolds also questioned what lessons zero-tolerance rules teach, citing reports that a 10-year-old girl was expelled from a Colorado academy after giving a teacher a small knife her mother placed in her lunchbox.

"What she learned from the school was, 'If something happens and you break a rule, for God's sake, don't tell anybody,'" Reynolds said. "Zero-tolerance policies completely ignore the concept of intent, which is antithetical to the American philosophy of justice."

The principal at Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island — whose mascot is sometimes depicted carrying a rifle — censored a yearbook photo because it showed a student who enjoys medieval reenactments wearing chainmail and holding a sword.

Citing the cost of litigation, the school relented this year and recently published in the yearbook graduate Patrick Agin's senior photo showing him with the sword.

Agin said he understands rules against guns and drugs, but he was perplexed about how school administrators drew distinctions in his case. He never brought the sword to school.

"You can't really have a zero tolerance," he said. "We have track and field. We throw javelins. If you think about it, you can pretty much make anything into a weapon."

Good to see something is happening on this front! It's painfully obvious that things have gotten out of hand, as this article demonstrates. Common sense is finally prevailing!

The article has hit virtually every point I've made in this blog the past few months: differentiating between household objects and illegal weapons, indiscriminate punishments, consideration of intent, breeding paranoia and dishonesty in kids. and the inherent absurdity in weapon classifications.

Let's hope this is indeed 'the pendulum swinging the other way' and this marks a great reversal in these Draconian policies.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Student suspended after voicing marijuana opinion

Canada National Post, June 12 2007

Kieran King's views on marijuana have led to his suspension from Wawota Parkland School.

King said he was threatened with police action by Principal Susan Wilson previously after making the case that marijuana was less harmful than alcohol.

"In my opinion, cannabis is safer than they say, it is not worse than alcohol or tobacco," said King, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student.

Wilson accused King of using and selling marijuana at school, according to a media release issued by the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party. King has offered to submit to a voluntary drug test to prove otherwise.

"I've never smoked marijuana. I've never even seen it," said King.

He said he had done independent research on marijuana use out of personal curiosity and decided to share the information with his friends at school.

Feeling his right to freedom of speech had been violated by Wilson, he organized a walkout to begin at 11:05 a.m on Tuesday.

Instead, he said the school was locked down in anticipation of the attempted walkout. Teachers reportedly stood in the doorways threatening punishment for leaving the school.

King and his brother Lucas were given three-day-suspensions for disobeying the lockdown.

Outside the school, three members of the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party, one member of the NDP and one protester gathered in the parking lane in front of the school. They used a megaphone to show their support for King and the students, said Ethan Erkiletian, an executive member of the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party.

Only four students walked out of the school, including King and his brother. The other two students returned to the school to avoid punishment.

"When we asked them why they locked down the school they said we were from outside the community and had a megaphone and might be frightening to the parents and students," said Erkiletian.

Two RCMP officers arrived and observed the walkout. No arrests were made and no charges were pressed.

The group of seven disbanded at 12:30 p.m.

"The main purpose wasn't cannabis. It was the defence of the freedom of speech. I believe we have a right to freedom of expression. I don't believe in vulgarity," said King.

The three-day suspension will prevent King from writing his final exams before he goes to China on a correspondence course. He's to leave Thursday.

The honour student said he will still pass Grade 10 because his marks are in the 80s and 90s. By missing his final exams he will lose 30 per cent of his marks.

"I know my children don't smoke, drink or take drugs," said King's mother, Jo Ann Buler. "As a parent I feel I need to support Kieran but I can see both sides of the issue."

Buler is a teacher and works in the school division which oversees Wawota Parkland School. She said she holds no ill will for the school and believes Kieran and the school have a point of view.

"He doesn't feel he's promoting drug use by talking about it. I don't think he deserves a permanent black mark on his school record," said Buler.

Neither Wilson nor the school division returned calls made by the Leader-Post.

Zero-tolerance laws are now in effect to such an extent that even an academic discussion on the subject of a school taboo is itself cause for alarm. Kieran, as we have seen, felt his Health classes weren't giving him a complete picture of marijuana and did independent research to better inform himself. Whether he was right or not depends entirely on the bias of his sources, of course, and the involvement of the Saskatchewan Marijuna Party leads me to believe he wasn't being particularly impartial.

Nevertheless: He was not participating in, nor promoting, illegal activities, but seeking to inform and educate himself and others about an important political issue. Criminalizing dissenting (and informed!) opinions about the government and its policies leads quickly to a one-party system and totalitarianism.

Despite the overreaction of the school principal, everyone involved here did a commendable job on keeping things under control. No arrests were made, and no charges were pressed. The student will still be able to go on his foreign correspondence trip and was not recommended for expulsion. There were no riots, no screaming parents and no national drug crisis. Altogether I think the Canadians as a group were sane, responsible, and just in their decisions, considering the circumstances.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

11-Year-Old Arrested For Using Rubber Band Gun

WFTV Florida, June 6 2007

An 11-year-old Ocoee boy was arrested for playing with a toy gun. Police said the arrest was necessary, because it was a safety issue.

The boy was using a rubber band gun and his father said the kid did nothing wrong, but police said they take it as a serious threat and the 11-year-old is facing felony charges.

The crime isn't very common, but Ocoee police said it is serious. It centers on an 11-year0old boy and his toy short-barreled shotgun.

The incident started Sunday afternoon, when the 11-year-old was riding in his dad's pickup near Clarke Road and White Road in Ocoee. Someone driving nearby called police after they said the boy pointed what looked like a real gun out the window. The victim told police she was afraid for her life.

"With that type of behavior, it's hard to tell if it's a real gun or not, especially in their car," said Sgt. Randy Conyers, Ocoee Police Department.

But, according to the charging affidavit, the 11-year-old's dad said nothing was wrong with what his son had done and that he used to do it as a kid. The boy even told police he was pretending to be a cop and thought the victims were laughing with him.

The gun itself only fires rubber bands and was checked into evidence. Police didn't comment on the weapon's color or release any images. Still, the victims said they were frightened and, police said, toy or no toy, the charges are justified.

Eyewitness News spoke to the father of the suspect on the phone. He said his son is out of juvenile detention and that a judge told him the case would be dropped. He also confirmed that the gun was black, but that it looked more like a stick than a gun.

Eleven years old. Rubber bands on a stick.

Felony charges.

I leave it to you, the reader, to decide what an appropriate punishment would have been...
then to exercise this judgment as parents and as voters.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


It's June, and that means school should be finished for most of the country. Don't expect too many new posts for the next few months.

Have a safe and free summer.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Threatened student gets no help

WSB-TV Atlanta, May 18 2007

A Henry County high school student said he was the victim of persistent threats that were reported to the school administration. But now he's the one being punished.

"I'm just outraged and appalled that something like this could happen," said father Rob Sims.

"It's not an uncommon concern for parents to be upset and concerned about their child being disciplined," said Tony Pickett with Henry County schools.

"I'm a good student, I just want to make friends," said student Bryan Sims. Bryan Sims said he is a member of the wrestling team and film club at Luella High.

He said for two weeks he thought about what to do after repeated threats from a fellow sophomore. He said friends told him about numerous threats from the other student to kill him.

"When I did approach him and said, 'Why do you want to shoot me, are you really saying this,' he just looked at me and smiled," said Sims.

He said he told his dad and his father went to the school administration about the threats.

"I said, 'I expect this to be resolved, if it's not resolved, I'll have to be back here in a couple weeks and we'll have to have a different conversation, up to and including, if I have to withdraw my son from school because I feel he's not safe," said Rob Sims.

Rob Sims said he heard nothing back and days passed. Finally, Bryan said the other student shoved him and made menacing remarks so Bryan waited until after his next class and then he retaliated.

"I threw a punch and I nicked him really, in the back left corner of his head. I wrapped my arms around him and I brought us both to the ground. I put him in a painless submission hold and said, 'Okay, now that you're down there, listen to me," said Bryan Sims.

Lawyer Scott Key said Bryan Sims was charged with four administrative charges and a school tribunal found him guilty of one -- physical abuse. In a hearing Friday they suspended him for the rest of the year.

"I understand that there should be some sort of punishment," said Bryan Sims. "Our responsibility everyday is to keep students and staff safe and secure," said Pickett.

Bryan Sims said he is the victim. The mother of the other student called Channel 2's Mark Winne and said her son has been picked on all year. She said the principal told her there was no evidence that her son did any of the things Bryan Sims accused him of, but she also said she's not happy with the school's handling of the situation either. She said her son had to go to the emergency room.

Incidents like this one happen all the time, everywhere... it's happened to almost all my friends. It's not just the nerds, geeks, dweebs and dorks that get picked on, it's pretty much anyone who isn't in the 'popular' cliques. That includes all the brightest and best minds and personalities and future leaders who will go on to earn twenty times as much as the bullies after high school; an economic vengeance. But this is little consolation to the student going about their day to day lives trying to make it through the school day without being harassed.
Marge Simpson: 'I thought you said, 'The law was powerless!'
Officer Wiggum: 'Yeah. Powerless to help you, not punish you.'
Administrators need to take these issues seriously, because they seriously affect their students. When, regrettably, school shootings do occur, it's when the students are tired of being victimized, tired of having no relief, tired of dealing with school officials and parents and trying every option open to them to fix their problems, and they resort to violence.

Resorting to violence to solve a problem represents a breakdown of communications between parties involved; in this case Bryan Sims took whatever action was necessary, went through proper channels, talked to his father, talked to school officials, and in despair took matters into his own hands. This is vigilante justice and it takes place when corruption, bureaucracy, incompetence or apathy halt the systems in place to administer legal justice. It represents a failure of the system.

I can't make blanket recommendations of how school officials should have handled this situation, but it is clear they had opportunities to head off the confrontation. It takes a lot of courage for students to not take things into their own hands and to share their feelings and experiences with parents and teachers, and if a parent expresses as much concern as Mr. Sims had the school has an obligation to their charges to look into it. These are rarely trivial matters; scientific consensus is that they affect children deeply and permanently and shape their future outlook and personalities. Let's make sure our school officials do their job properly, in loco parentis.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Readers Digest comments on Zero Tolerance

An article in the May 2007 Readers Digest discusses some of the more heinous applications of Zero Tolerance policy, including one that's eerily parallel to the story of Elliot Voge I posted on earlier this year:

On a chilly December morning in Houston, Eddie Evans's 12-year-old son hurried out the door in shirt sleeves on his way to the bus stop. Feeling the cold, he ducked back into his house to quickly grab a jacket. It wasn't until he'd gotten inside the school building that he remembered his three-inch pocketknife was still in his coat. Why would a sixth-grader carry a knife? Because he was a Boy Scout and he'd brought it to his last Scout meeting.

After asking a friend what he should do, the boy decided to keep quiet and hide the knife in his locker until the end of the day. But his friend mentioned the knife to a teacher, and school officials called the police. That afternoon, cops arrested the Evans child and took him to a juvenile detention center. "From that point on, my family's life was flipped on its head," the boy's father says.

The boy was suspended from school for 45 days and enrolled in an alternative school for juvenile offenders. Evans says the place was like a boot camp, where his son -- a good student, a youth leader in his church and a First Class Boy Scout -- was so miserable he talked about suicide.

It goes on to list a few recent incidents I've missed. "According to a report issued by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.:
  • A 17-year-old in Richmond, Illinois, shot a paper clip with a rubber band, missing his target but hitting a cafeteria worker instead. He was expelled.

  • A 12-year-old in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder, told others in a lunch line not to eat all the potatoes, or "I'm going to get you."
    Turned in by the lunch monitor, he was referred by the principal to the police, who charged the boy with making "terroristic threats." The kid spent several weeks in a juvenile detention center.

  • A 13-year-old in Denton County, Texas, was assigned in class to write a "scary" Halloween story. He concocted one that involved shooting up a school, which got him a visit from police -- and six days in jail before the courts confirmed that no crime had been committed.
The Evans case ended with the boy's parent getting involved in local and state politics to prevent just these sorts of abuses. He's even set up a website, Texas Zero Tolerance, to educate and activate parents on the issue. I'll be keeping a close eye on them and commenting on interesting stories I find.

Teachers stage fake gun attack on kids

Associated Press, May 13 2007

Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.

The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the week-long trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip.

"We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation," he said.

But parents of the sixth-grade students were outraged.

"The children were in that room in the dark, begging for their lives, because they thought there was someone with a gun after them," said Brandy Cole, whose son went on the trip.

Some parents said they were upset by the staff's poor judgment in light of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and professors dead, including the gunman.

During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on locked door.

After the lights went out, about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said.

"I was like, 'Oh My God,' " she said. "At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out."

Principal Catherine Stephens declined to say whether the staff members involved would face disciplinary action, but said the situation "involved poor judgment."

How horrible! It may have only been a drill--but did that make the emotions any less real? There was no gunman--but did that make the children any less frightened? For these kids, in this situation, they feared for their lives. Ten, eleven and twelve-year-olds, believed that they would never see their parents again. And this 'drill' was done without their parents' knowledge or permission, and the kids had no reason not to believe their teachers.

Do we conduct fire drills by trapping kids in a burning building, even though the fire may be controlled? Do we teach kids how to dial 911 and give information by having their parents fake heart attacks? Absolutely not. Although these methods are powerful, they are also cruel. What must the kids think of these teachers who would do such a thing to them?

Since the original article was reported it has come to light that the whole incident was a prank at a school camping trip, intended to be in the same vein as spooky ghost stories. The people responsible have since been suspended. 'Poor judgment', indeed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Student banned for game map of school

Fort Bend Now, April 30 2007

Members of the area Chinese community have rallied behind a Clements High School senior who was removed from the campus and sent to M.R. Wood Alternative Education Center after parents complained he’d created a computer game map of Clements.

About 70 people attended the Fort Bend Independent School District’s April 23 meeting to show support for the Clements senior and his mother, Jean Lin, who spoke to FBISD Board trustees in a closed session.

While an agenda document does not specify details, the board is holding a special meeting tonight to address the boy’s actions and the discipline that was meted out as a result, sources close to the matter say. The boy’s name was not identified last week, and the district has declined to discuss his case.

Richard Chen, president of the Fort Bend Chinese-American Voters League and a acquaintance of the boy’s family, said he is a talented student who enjoys computer games and learned how to create maps (also sometimes known as “mods”), which provide new environments in which games may be played.

The map the boy designed mimicked Clements High School. And, sources said, it was uploaded either to the boy’s home computer or to a computer server where he and his friends could access and play on it. Two parents apparently learned from their children about the existence of the game, and complained to FBISD administrators, who investigated.

“They arrested him,” Chen said of FBISD police, “and also went to the house to search.” The Lin family consented to the search, and a hammer was found in the boy’s room, which he used to fix his bed, because it wasn’t in good shape, Chen said. He indicated police seized the hammer as a potential weapon.

“They decided he was a terroristic threat,” said one source close to the district’s investigation.

Sources said that although no charges were filed against the boy, he was removed from Clements, sent to the district’s alternate education school and won’t be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies with classmates.

“All he did was create a map and put it on a web site to allow students to play,” Chen said. “The mother thinks this is too harsh.”

FBISD officials declined to comment on the matter Monday. “Our challenge is, people in the community have freedom of speech and can say what they want, but we have laws” covering privacy issues, especially involving minors, that the district has to respect, said spokeswoman Nancy Porter.

Speakers at the FBISD Board’s April 23 meeting alluded to the Clements senior’s punishment, and drew a connection to the April 16 shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in which a Korean student shot and killed 32 people.

The Asian community “faces new pressures” as a result of the shootings, William Sun told board members. “We urge the school and community not to label our Asian students as terrorists.”

“We should teach our children not to judge others harshly” and not to target people as being a threat because of their race, said Peter Woo, adding that the school district should lead the way in such efforts.

But Chen said Monday he and other community members don’t consider FBISD’s actions in the case to be racially motivated, and don’t think they blew the incident out of proportion.

“They all think the principal has to do something – but how much? We do understand with the Virginia Tech incident…something has to be done,” Chen said. “Someone just made a mistake, and we think the principal should understand that.”

We need to start questioning student's motives and intentions before taking disciplinary action against them. A student mapping out their school in Counter-Strike is no more of a threat to the student who maps out their home in The Sims. Many students have done things like this; last year, a student who had modeled and textured a map of our campus for a Computer Science assignment converted it into a Battlefield 1942 map for himself and his friends. It was distributed on campus and received a positive write-up in the student newspaper. That student is no more likely to actually drive a tank into our student center than this student is to run around the halls with a machine gun, or for Sims players to lock the bathroom door and watch houseguests starve to death. Hell, I know people who replicated their hometowns in SimCity 2000 ten years ago and wiped out their schools with tornadoes. Why are there any adults in existence who would consider these things threatening, let alone in places of power?

It's called fantasy, and it's everyday part of human life. Administrators and officials need to exercise some common sense and judgment in determining what is harmless fantasy and what is legally threatening. People create with what they're familiar with; ever wonder why Stephen King writes so much about Maine? Representing familiar environments in interactive virtual worlds is actually an area of sophisticated research in universities today, looking for the next level of human interaction with their environments and recognizing the inherent differences therein.

There is a distinction to be made in how we exercise our First Amendment rights, at what point we cross the line from expressing an opinion (a basic right) and inciting panic and fear of violence (not protected speech.) Since the infamous Jack Thompson has made this the subject of his latest case against posters on a message board making disparaging comments against him, it's probably a good idea to present some examples:

"Jack Thompson deserves to be stabbed."
"Jack Thompson ought to be stabbed."
"Somebody should stab Jack Thompson."
"I should stab Jack Thompson."
"I am going to stab Jack Thompson."

Now at what point does this cross the line from hyperbole to threat? And even in the latter case, any prosecutor in a court of law would have to provide more than verbal evidence to prove intent to commit a crime. In the absence of any specific people, methods or means, this student hasn't done anything even remotely threatening. Although we may consider his act to be in poor taste it's certainly not criminal.

Meanwhile, it's apparently legal for the police to search your property if a 3D map of your school for a video game is attributed to you.

The fact that police seized a hammer--not a hobby knife, not a BB gun, not a model rocket engine, but a hammer--as a potential weapon and labeled him a 'terrorist threat' is deeply troubling. It reeks of totalitarianism, to be able to arrest an American citizen who had committed no crimes and legally be able to ship them off to a military prison without the right to defend themselves, thanks to the suspension of Habeus Corpus for 'enemy combatants' labeled as Terrorists by the government, even within our own country. And lest you have faith in our government and are of the attitude that only criminals and undesirables will be affected by these procedures, keep in mind that the government will be making that distinction, NOT YOU.
In the oft-quoted words of Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left
to speak up for me.
We as a society need to fight for the rights of minorities, because the smallest minority of all is YOU--the individual. Maintain awareness of these events and call out those responsible.

Friday, April 27, 2007

'Disturbing' essay gets student arrested

Chicago Sun-Times, April 26 2007

High school senior Allen Lee sat down with his creative writing class on Monday and penned an essay that so disturbed his teacher, school administrators and police that he was charged with disorderly conduct.

"I understand what happened recently at Virginia Tech," said the teen's father, Albert Lee, referring to last week's massacre of 32 students by gunman Seung-Hui Cho. "I understand the situation."
But he added: "I don't see how somebody can get charged by writing in their homework. The teacher asked them to express themselves, and he followed instructions."

Allen Lee, an 18-year-old straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with disorderly conduct for an essay police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.

The youth's father said his son was not suspended or expelled but was forced to attend classes elsewhere for now.

Today, Cary-Grove students rallied behind the arrested teen by organizing a petition drive to let him back in their school. They posted on walls quotes from the English teacher in which she had encouraged students to express their emotions through writing.

"I'm not going to lie. I signed the petition," said senior James Gitzinger. "But I can understand where the administration is coming from. I think I would react the same way if I was a teacher."

Cary Police Chief Ron Delelio said the charge was appropriate even though the essay was not published or posted for public viewing.

Disorderly conduct, which carries a penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine, is filed for pranks such as pulling a fire alarm or dialing 911. But it can also apply when someone's writings can disturb an individual, Delelio said.

"The teacher was alarmed and disturbed by the content," he said.

But a civil rights advocate said the teacher's reaction to an essay shouldn't make it a crime.

"One of the elements is that some sort of disorder or disruption is created," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "When something is done in private—when a paper is handed in to a teacher—there isn't a disruption."

The "key outcomes" this month for the Creative English class was for students to identify and utilize poetic conventions to communicate ideas and emotions. With that in mind, teachers reminded students that if they read something that posed a threat to self or others, the school could take action, said High School District 155 Supt. Jill Hawk.

The English teacher read the essay and reported it to a supervisor and the principal. A round-table discussion with district officials conveyed, with lively debate, and they decided to report it to the police.

"Our staff is very familiar with adolescent behavior. We're very well versed with types of creativity put into writing. We know the standards of adolescent behavior that are acceptable and that there is a range," Hawk said.

"There can certainly be writing that conveys concern for us even though it does not name names location or date," he said.

The charge against Lee comes as schools across the country wrestle with how to react in the wake of the shootings at the Virginia Tech campus at Blacksburg, Va.

Bomb threats at high schools in Schaumburg and Country Club Hills have caused evacuations, and extra police were on duty at a Palos Hills high school this week because of a threatening note found in the bathroom of a McDonald's restaurant a half-mile away.

Experts say the charge against Lee is troubling because it was over an essay that even police say contained no direct threats against anyone at the school. However, Virginia Tech's actions toward Cho came under heavy scrutiny after the killings because of the "disturbing" plays and essays teachers say he had written for classes.

Simmie Baer, an attorney with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University, called the Cary incident an example of zero-tolerance policies gone awry. Children, she said, are not as sophisticated as adults and often show emotion through writing or pictures, which is what teachers should want because it is a safe outlet.

So this is the reaction we have, when a student actually expresses themselves in a creative writing assignment; the teacher found it disturbing and had the guy arrested. There were no threats, no specifications, no reason to be scared of this Honors student, who had obviously taken pains to ensure that his essay would not be perceived as threatening. He didn't post it online or cause panic or hysteria. He expressed his honest feelings in a creative fashion as requested by his teacher... and he's charged with Disorderly Conduct.

Why can't they just TALK to him?! Do the people running these establishments REALIZE that this kind of treatment will only push potentially dangerous people FURTHER into their corners?! Can't we take the opportunity to discuss and understand and negotiate and debate and connect with other people instead of this knee-jerk reaction to what the establishment finds 'disturbing'? How much of a leap is this, really, to criminalizing dissenting thought?

There are, of course, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, those who think we could have done something to prevent it; that we should have heeded the warning signs in Cho's writings, and that this sort of reaction is acting upon lessons learned. But the truth is that, if we do truly want to live in a free society, where you can hold your own beliefs and express them to others without fear, then there's nothing we COULD have done. Cho (and our victim Allen Lee) was free to think and say what they wanted because we should ALL be free to say and think what we want; as long as Cho didn't act on his writings there weren't any problems. Likewise, the ACLU and the Supreme Court uphold the rights of hate groups to despise and detest whatever minorities they do, so long as they don't form lynch mobs, just like they uphold the rights of pro-life advocates to picket abortion clinics, anti-war protestors to march on Washington, and Ann Coulter's right to rant about the 'godless church of liberalism.'

You probably don't agree with some of these opinions, and I'm willing to bet they don't agree with some of yours. But that's why we humans have the amazing ability to discourse, to discuss and understand and negotiate and debate and connect with other people. We, as rational beings, can decide what points of view are the most valid based on empirical evidence and consensus of experience. We have the power to show that other people are wrong, and how, instead of instantly asserting that their points of view are wrong and judging based on that. Making a credible case for your position is a far stronger standpoint for making legal, ethical and moral judgments than trusting a potentially untrustworthy authority to have the answers for you.

The Ancient Greeks and their heirs of the Renaissance and Enlightenment saw this and it led to tremendous explosions in science, philosophy, politics and every other field. In every scenario dogmatism, intolerance and suppression of dissent has led to social disaster. Asserting, axiomatically, that a certain point of view is right (or wrong) and beyond debate is a catastrophically dangerous position to take because it is based entirely on the whims of the people asserting that axiom, and God forbid you disagree with them.

I'm getting off on a tangent here but I want to point out that much of this mentality falls under the category of Authoritarianism, that is, strict and unflinching obedience to a higher power based solely upon their position of authority. We see it everywhere, both historically and contemporarily, in the dregs of human history: during the Inquisition, during the Holocaust, in the Milgram Experiments, in the ranks of Al-Qaeda, in Westboro Baptist Church and creeping into our schools. This is the greater issue at work here, in all levels of the government and among all classes and heritages of people.

We have to remain critical and skeptical, and as a human being if you value your own freedom you MUST empathize with others and value theirs. Take issue principally not with what they believe, but why they believe it. Let's try to understand those who disagree with us, instead of condemning them. One of our greatest gifts is the rational mind; let's USE IT.

I would highly recommend Dr. Robert Altemeyer's book The Authoritarians for an objective, empirical summary of some thirty years of research into the authoritarian personality and its ramifications for today's politics. If you want to know what happens to the rest of us when people like James Gitzinger (see above) start exchanging essential liberties for temporary safety, push the button. It's free.

Follow-up 4/27/07: Here's the original essay by the student. Not exactly proofread, or very readable, or making any sense at all, but that's typical for stream-of-consciousness exercises. He adds some of his own comments about the content.
"On an additional note, I have completed the MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station) examinations, and yes a psychiatric evaluation is included in the process. If I'm qualified to defend the country, I believe I'm qualified to attend school."

Follow-up 5/23/07: Charges against the student have been dropped. School officials still insist they did the right thing, claiming "The arrest and charges were clearly warranted by the Cary Police Department," and "The police were obligated in the circumstances to do whatever legally possible they could to ensure the safety of Mr. Lee, the students, and the school."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

High School Student Suspended after Gun Doodle

Associated Press, April 24 2007

It was a crude animation of one stick figure shooting another created for a school graphics class in Gloucester County last week.

But during the same week of a shooting massacre at Virginia Tech, officials at Williamstown High School in Monroe found nothing innocent about the sketch. As a result, the student says a vice principal told him he would not be allowed to attend classes again until he passes a mental-health evaluation.

In response, the 18-year-old, identified in court papers only as "J.K.," filed a lawsuit yesterday asking a federal judge to order school officials to allow him back to class and to pay for damages.

During a graphics design class on April 16 - hours before the world knew that Seung-Hui Cho had killed 32 people at Virginia Tech - J.K. said he was asked to make animations for a program they were learning.

J.K.'s sketch consisted of two stick figures, one with a raised gun that had dashes leading from it to the head of the other one.

The next morning, he said, he showed the drawing to a teacher, but told her he was not done with it. In court papers, he said he planned to show the victim deflecting or destroying the bullet. But, he said, the teacher did not listen to him further.

Two days later, he said, Vice Principal Paul Deal told him that he was not being suspended or expelled, but that he might be a threat to the school or himself. J.K. said he was told to leave and not return until being cleared by a mental-health professional.

Monroe Schools Superintendent Robert E. Terrill said that "the administration at the high school felt it was necessary to remove" the student until a threat assessment was conducted by a school psychologist as a precaution.

Terrill said that he had not seen the drawing, but that school officials described it as a stick figure shooting another figure in the head. There were no names or labels, he said.

Terrill said that the school's action was unrelated to last week's massacre at Virginia Tech, but that the "incident heightened everybody's awareness."

"On occasion, we have students that might do something like this where we might have a question as to what the youngster's intentions are," Terrill said.

Although J.K. has attention deficit disorder, according to court papers he was an honor student, a flight commander in his school's Air Force Junior ROTC program and took some courses at Gloucester County College.

According to his report card, he earned five A's and a B last quarter. One of those A's was in his graphic design class.

Whatever happened to creativity? Whatever happened to independence? Whatever happened to appropriate judgment? Why is everyone being held under suspicion? Has our Culture of Fear really driven us to this point?
Kids have fantasies of violence--we all do. People think bloodthirsty thoughts (and I'm sure a qualified psychologist could tell you why) but the overwhelming majority of people don't act on them! Creative outlets for aggression are therapeutic--violent crime in the United States is at a tremendous low. As Hollywood gore have gotten more sophisticated and first-person shooters have proliferated in the home, our country hasn't become an anarchic death orgy--it's safer than ever before. What are we all afraid of?

Source: US Department of Justice

Individuals have rights, even students; at 18 this student was a legal adult. Let's exercise some voting power together and put some sense back into the government.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hysteria after student notes disliked classmates

Sun-Sentinal, April 19 2007

BOCA RATON -- Spanish River High School phones were clogged on Thursday with calls from parents concerned about security after a male student on Wednesday pointed out people in the yearbook he liked and didn't like.

The 18-year-old student was removed from school Wednesday and will not return, said principal Constance Tuman-Rugg.

In a nation shaken to the core by a gunman at Virginia Tech who took the lives of 32 people and then himself, add Hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the Columbine High School killings on Friday.

"In the four years I've been at a high school, this happens on April 20," said Tuman-Rugg. "It's not just this year or this boy. Watching the images on TV, I do understand the parents' concerns, but we have to encourage people to separate fact from exaggeration and not panic."

Rumors continue to fly today, but nothing more than the comments about the yearbook could be documented first-hand, the principal said.

School police searched the home of the student, who is a senior, with the cooperation of this mother. Police found no evidence of danger at the home, the principal said.

"Nothing was found, no letters, no lists, nothing," Tuman-Rugg said.

Parent Crystal Palmquist of Boca Raton said her two sons begged her not to attend school on today because they fear for their safety. She said Allan, 16, and Harrison, 15, both ninth-graders, believe a threat against students is real.

They told their mother they're sure that one classmate has a list of targeted student victims.

"You can't take these things lightly," said Palmquist, who decided to keep her children home. She wants more assurances from the school that there is no danger to the students.

Extra school police are on duty at Spanish River today and tomorrow, the principal said. She made announcements at school and sent a recorded phone message to parents last night to assure families of the security of the campus.

Of the school's 2,200 students, 132 were absent today, within the usual range of 130-150, the principal said.

"We're all very upset about what happened at Virginia Tech, but I'm not a mom who gets overly alarmed," said Suzy Chevrier, who has two daughters who attend Spanish River. "Every time there's a shooting or a bomb scare there are copycat threats, and there's danger in not paying attention. But I don't think it's good to overreact."

I don't think there's much I can say here. This is probably the most extreme example of kneejerk panic that I've ever seen. That, or the kids (15 and 16, and freshmen?) saw an easy way to skip a few days from school and their gullible parents let them.

I hope the senior gets to walk at graduation with his classmates.

Friday, April 13, 2007

School pulls approved book after one complaint

San Francisco Chronicle, April 12 2007

Citing his concern for "the morals of our society," Burlingame schools Superintendent Sonny Da Marto has stopped four eighth-grade classes from reading "Kaffir Boy," an award-winning memoir of growing up in a South African ghetto during apartheid.

Da Marto had banned the book from the Burlingame Intermediate School late last month when the 13- and 14-year-old students were nearly halfway through it, said their English teacher, Amelia Ramos, who was required to take the books back from 116 students...

..."Kaffir Boy has been taught in eighth grade and in many high schools across the United States," Ramos said. "I wanted to challenge and motivate my students, to broaden their perspectives on life beyond the borders of Burlingame."

That strategy worked last year, when Ramos freely taught the memoir after it was approved by the Burlingame School District's "core literature committee" of parents, teachers, a librarian, a student and a school board member.

But in late March, Ramos received an e-mail from a parent complaining about the graphic scene.

On Page 72, readers find a description of child prostitution witnessed by Mathabane when he was younger than Ramos' students...

...Board member Liz Gindraux, who also sat on the core literature committee that approved "Kaffir Boy," said the process had been "disrespected."

"Two parents object, and the book is pulled without any discussion," she said. "I feel we jumped the gun a little."

Board Vice President Michael Barber said, "I don't want to be the censor board."

Parent Kerbey Altmann said the banning decision had "echoes of a police state."

"I feel my right as a parent was usurped unceremoniously and quickly. There was not full disclosure," he said.

His son, eighth-grader Tom Altmann, asked the board how "shielding us from the scene in the book will benefit us."

No one spoke in favor of the ban.

Mathabane has been dealing with objections to Page 72 for years. In 1999, he wrote an essay that appeared in the Washington Post, titled, "If You Assign My Book, Don't Censor It..."

...Mathabane writes that he was shunned by the boys for running away. He concludes that "resisting peer pressure is one of the toughest things for young people to do.

"That is the lesson of the prostitution scene. It's a lesson that seems to be lost on the people who want to censor my book."

One concerned parent and one overzealous administrator have negated the efforts of a board of genuine educators and intercepted the genuine, authentic lessons this book was to teach. "Kaffir Boy" had gone through the school board's approval process and had been taught in the past, in its entirety. The correct response to the student's parent should have been a brief explanation of the book's, and the passage's, value to the student and its purpose. Although the parent reserves the right to decide what their child should be reading, yanking a half-finished book out of the hands of over a hundred students is irresponsible.

The very purpose of Page 72 is to disturb readers; I as a parent or a teacher would be more concerned if the student wasn't disturbed. The book is not pornographic, it is an authentic first-hand account of a very real and regrettable part of human history. If future generations don't understand why and how the ugly parts of history have occurred, then they will likely be doomed to repeat it.

Thankfully most parties involved recognize the value in the book, and if more parents raise children like the Altmanns we should be headed towards a more enlightened society.