Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Haven't we had enough of this?

I mean, enough of arresting 10-year-olds in public schools? This young girl brought leftover steak for lunch and a steak knife. She began to eat her lunch using the knife properly and ... I can't go on. Here's the story:
Knife At Lunch Gets 10-Year-Old Girl Arrested At School

OCALA, FL -- A 10-year old Ocala girl brought her lunch to school and a small kitchen knife to cut it. She now faces a felony charge after being arrested. The school and the sheriff's office disagree on the reason for the arrest.

School officials say the 5th grader was brown-bagging it. She brought a piece of steak for her lunch, but she also brought a steak knife. That's when deputies were called.

It happened in the cafeteria at Sunrise Elementary School. The 10-year-old used the knife to cut the meat.

"She did not use it inappropriately. She did not threaten anyone with it. She didn't pull it out and brandish it. Nothing of that nature," explained Marion County School Spokesman Kevin Christian.

But a couple of teachers took the utensil and called the sheriff. When deputies arrived, they were unable to get the child's parents on the phone, so they arrested her and took her to the county's juvenile assessment center.

"And we didn't handcuff her or treat her like a criminal. But, we took her to the assessment center to be assessed," said Capt. James Pogue, Marion County Sheriff's Office.

School officials said it doesn't matter what the knife was being used for. They said they had no choice.

"Anytime there's a weapon on campus, yes, we have to report it and we aggressively report it because we don't want to take any chances, regardless," Christian said.

But the sheriff's office said the extreme measures in what some may say was a harmless incident had to do with school policy, not theirs.

"But once we're notified, we have to take some type of action," Pogue explained.

The student now faces a felony charge for the possession of a weapon on school property and the principal suspended her for ten days. The parents of the girl could not be reached for comment.

The sheriff's office has turned the case over to the State Attorney's Office.

She didn't use it inappropriately, but when the school couldn't reach her parents, the girl was arrested. "[W]e took her to the assessment center to be assessed," said the eloquent sheriff. Will they assess the damage done to the reputation of the school for this insane response? Do the teachers who called the sheriff feel proud that they averted a possible killing spree?

In any situation involving law breaking there is an element of judgment. Does anyone really believe that the teachers would have been disciplined (they can't be fired; they're union, you know) if they hadn't called the sheriff? If they'd just given the girl a good talking to? Anyone? Would the school system have tottered if they'd simply sat the girl down in one of the 17 counseling offices in the school (there are at least that many in any modern public school) and just asked her for her side of the story?

Bah! No Child Left Behind, indeed.


A friend of mine in San Diego replied to this:

Right issue. Wrong target. We know you've got it in for the public school system. But this is not a problem unique to the public school system. In fact, given a bit broader view, it is really a problem of employment in the public sector, and has been with us since the creation of civil service (maybe longer).

How many times does this NOT happen. IOW, if you knew that there were 42,000 incidents last year like this which were handled as you think they should be, without the intervention of the police or some other draconian reaction by the school, what would you think, then? You're angst implies that this incident represents the way it's always done, which, if true, I would agree is boneheaded. No one thinks that the blind application of a policy this way is the right thing to do. But I question whether this truly represents SOP. Any incident handled discreetly, would, by its nature, never come to your attention.

In the public sector, unlike the private, there is no reward for taking initiative, exercising judgment, or exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. There is no downside for a school (or the police) to apply the zero tolerance policy, other than the ridicule of the public, which is not enough to overcome bureaucratic intransigence. Even though I would venture to say many times the policy in contravened by a sensible teacher, principal, or cop.

This pattern is equally applicable to stiff necked civil service employees across the board. Ever run across something like this at the Post Office? Get a parking ticket for being two minutes over? Nevertheless, billions of pieces of mail get handled efficiently every year, and lots of parking tickets get written and paid for which are richly deserved.

In fact, one might say you are guilty of the very thing you criticize. Your chronic attacks on the public school system have become pro forma, automatic, and any misstep by any teacher, administrator, or educational bureaucrat becomes proof for you that the entire system is deeply if not fatally flawed. No Child Left Behind (which I have retitled No Child Gets Ahead) has nothing to do with zero tolerance for weapons on campus.

Your target should not be public schools but human nature and the government we must live with to create and maintain an orderly society. Simply change human nature and incidents like this will never happen again.


My response:

You make a decent point. The "however" that I'm going to throw in is related to the very large number of similar bone-headed incidents I documented on my blog over the past three years. I had a category for school-related zero tolerance stories. I posted 100 of those stories over that time until I figured I'd made whatever point I was trying to make. I think that more of these incidents get to the bone-headed stage in the schools than they do in the YMCA or the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, Boys/Girls Brigade, etc.; that is, any other organization that deals with young people for extended periods of time. It's the schools where this stuff happens and it goes beyond the reasonable response way more often than in those other organizations.


And I'm going to change my weak closing line to something another friend in Kentucky suggested to me: I think it's time to pray ... pray for deliverance from these fools.

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