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.