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.