Thursday, Feb 09, 2006

Posted on Sun, Jan. 22, 2006

Expulsion harsh in student prank

Carroll overreacts in booting satirist

If you’ve ever been to a high school reunion, you’ve certainly noticed that your old administrators don’t attend.

There are several reasons for this. The administrators often don’t care to see their old students (they remember few with fondness) and the students aren’t particularly anxious to see them, either.

Students often don’t like administrators.

Think back to your high school days sitting in the lunchroom, listening to kids talk about how they hated their mothers or hated their fathers and calling this teacher a female dog (not the term they use) or one principal or another an SOB or a Nazi or one teacher or another worthless or stupid.

That’s the way students are, especially in high school. They grate under rules, resent what they see as unfairness or arbitrariness, cringe at cliches that are nothing more than verbal motivational posters and recognize it when teachers don’t care.

At Carroll High School this month one student made the mistake of putting his thoughts in writing. What he wrote was meant to be satire, patterned after the kind of stuff you see on “The Daily Show,” a Comedy Central program that views everything important in a satirical way.

The booklet, printed on typewriter paper, has a $10 price on the cover, says it is presented by the Carroll Chamber of Corn, features a picture of the principal and has a picture of a flag with the words “Red Tape, White and Blue.” It’s pretty obvious it’s meant to be satirical.

Of course it wasn’t viewed that way by the administration. A teacher noticed a student reading it, and before long the you-know-what hit the fan. The student who wrote it was suspended and then expelled.

So what’s so offensive about it? Yes, he did refer to the principal as a female dog, in an impolite way.

In a foreword that anyone would recognize as a spoof, he had a former principal saying he once spent the night at a Motel 6 with the principal but saying he didn’t have sex.

The foreword tells students how important they are. They do work that produces data which is compiled and placed on quality paper with silver and gold specks and sent to the North Central Association (a school accrediting organization), which is so impressed it names Carroll a four-star school. Students shouldn’t get the idea they’re four-star students, though. They’re just data generators so administrators can write gobbledygook that makes them look good.

The book makes reference to a legacy of losing teams, says the assistant principal for discipline spends 4 percent of his time disciplining students and 63 percent of his time is unaccounted for.

It says black students are guilty until proven innocent; asks who would enforce the cell phone ban if there were a crisis at the school, and suggests the graduation rate is determined by counting the number of students on the last day of school and comparing it to the number who graduate. That’s why the rates are so impressively high.

Any power students, such as the student council, have are not real powers but Austin Powers, it says.

It examines the parking habits of students and notes where overachievers, band members, kids to be found in detention and the mediocre masses park, and blasts one teacher for preaching communism.

Finally, in a section called “If I were principal,” in a paragraph with two obscene words, it suggests students should be able to carry backpacks because even if someone has a bomb, hauling 40 pounds around all day is good exercise and fights obesity; that fighting should be permitted because it would allow for survival of the fittest; that the parking lot should be turned into a drag strip but that cops should be placed at the stop sign at the end and ticket those who don’t stop; and all students should be encouraged to drop out because then the principal would still get paid but have no work to do.

One can see how this rubbed the administration the wrong way. It makes fun of them, and a lot of people don’t like to be made fun of.

So how do you respond?

Well, the administration has responded like some character out of a Dickens novel. It expelled the student.

Exactly why he was expelled is a bit fuzzy. Was it because of what he wrote? Was it because he did it on a computer at school? Was it something else? School officials won’t say. They say explaining why he was expelled would violate his rights.

So let’s look at what he did: He wrote a less-than-flattering, satirical pamphlet in modern, sometimes vulgar vernacular.

We can argue freedom of speech here, and a student certainly has the right to ridicule the administration, though the use of profanity is not a good idea. Profanity is against the rules.

The Carroll student handbook, 62 pages of rules and regulations and policies, lists lots of reasons for expelling students: fighting, insubordination, disrespectful conduct, use of vulgarities, profanities or obscenities, etc. But the rulebook itself calls for lesser penalties, ranging from discussing the offense with the student to detention or suspension for early offenses. Expulsion is a penalty reserved for repeated offenses or egregious ones, like burning down the school.

That’s where this case flies in the face of the rules. The satirical pamphlet was one offense.

Certainly the student hasn’t endeared himself to the administration. He would be well advised to tread lightly in the future. Someday he’ll likely look back and say, “That booklet was a little over the top, wasn’t it?”

But the administration needs to learn to tread lightly, too, and not play the role of a giant crushing dissidents beneath its feet.

The case isn’t over. The school board will make the ultimate decision. The student has been suspended and then expelled by the administration. The board has the power to reverse the expulsion and let a suspension suffice. That would be the wise move.

One offense does not prove a student is incorrigible. And criticizing the administration, even in a vulgar fashion, does not merit expulsion – the equivalent of capital punishment for a student.


Frank Gray has held positions as a reporter and editor at The Journal Gazette since 1982, and has been writing a column on local issues since 1998. His column is published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376; by fax at 461-8893; or e-mail at fgray@jg.net. To discuss this column or others he has written recently, go to the Frank Gray topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.