April 24, 2024

1st Grade Harassment

In pointing out another case of legalistic lunacy, Susan Duclos writes:

The "zero tolerance" policy at some school and in some states, reaches levels of complete incompetence when a 6 years gets written up as a sexual offender for copying what another kid did and playfully smacking little Katherine DeLeon on the bottom twice.

Where is the line drawn between zero tolerance and common sense?

When are school officials going to start using judgment instead of some generic general rule to decide a case on an individual basis?

In what alternate reality do we live in where a six year old or a four year old are accused of being a sexual offender, simply because they are too young to understand their natural inclination to play and touch are wrong?

I don’t want to justify this kind of gutless, inept decision, because it’s wrong and stupid just as Spree says.  But there are many reasons why school officials make these kind of decisions and it’s important for parents who care – which is a minority, to be sure – to realize that they aren’t made in a complete vacuum. 

Let’s touch on a few, shall we?

First, realize that when little Johnny can’t behave during school, teachers and principals are usually powerless to discipline him in a manner that teaches the cause-effect relationship; i.e., misbehave repeatedly in school and an unpleasant rump-paddling will occur.  Bad behavior stops.  But that’s so direct, it’s offensive to the refined values of a certain misguided segment of the parental population, to say nothing of the know-it-alls who define what are and are not acceptable ways to teach children.

Strike 1.

Second, consider the effect that a single willfully ignorant parent has on an entire classroom of children.  Given that real discipline cannot be meted out during school hours – somehow assigning extra work to a kid who doesn’t do his regular assignments just isn’t effective… go figure – teachers must rely on Johnny’s mom and dad to take care of modifying his bad behavior.  That works about as well as you’d expect given that his parents are the ones who have molded his actions from the time of his birth.

Far too often mom and dad either refuse to attend parent-teacher conferences as scheduled or show up only to blindly defend their child.  Yes, it’s unpleasant to be told that one’s baby is a brat or a bully or refuses to give teachers and classmates the respect they deserve.  It’s hard.  But it’s often the truth and too many parents refuse to accept what they’re being told.  Parental follow-up is therefore lacking in many discipline situations.

Strike 2.

Third, teachers and principals are college-educated individuals, most of whom have a genuine desire to teach their students to the best of their ability.  They are also over-stressed, over-worked (during the school year), and woefully under-paid relative to their education level, job requirements, and, most importantly, expectations.  As a result, burnout is common.

Common sense, which is lacking, I realize, tells me that teachers ought to take a break in their careers to do something different for a while, to interact with other adults in professional settings and to get their enthusiasm back.

But this is discouraged by administrators who often have trouble simply filling teaching slots with qualified instructors to begin with.  The problem is further exacerbated by the teachers union and the retirement system that it has put in place. 

There is only one way for an educator to grow old in relative prosperity after working for decades for low wages:  retire through the Teachers Retirement System.  This requires varying years of service depending on one’s locale but is certainly at least 20 years and often more.

The system is thus heavily back-loaded and forces educators to continue working in the profession when their interest level and enthusiasm – very important qualities in a teacher – have waned or vanished.

This is important when it comes to cases like the one in question because using common sense, as Spree rightly demands, can be a risky endeavor.  This is especially true when a teacher or principal can be called to account in front of the school board for failing to invoke the applicable but draconian policy called for by the district’s policy manual.

The truth is that educators often cannot afford to act as reason tells them to for fear of legal repercussions or outright fear of physical assault at the hands of parents.

Strike 3.

So yes, it’s a bad, useless decision to label a 6-year-old as a sex offender. 

An assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists, Ted Feinberg, says he is "stunned" by the school’s reaction to a child of six that has no concept of what those behaviors mean and he states, "I believe they do not have the capacity for awareness of sexual motivation … it seems like a gross mislabeling of the behavior and an overreaction."

It’s also something that can be reasonably predicted given the environment in which educators find themselves.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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