A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An 8-year-old, misunderstanding the law, and a lot of damn gall

Why is Arizona on our minds so much lately? Here’s this gem from an incident in Phoenix on November 19:
She threw a temper tantrum. She ran into the street and was almost hit by a car. And she later reportedly kicked another student during an emotional outburst.

Authorities say that it was an 8-year-old girl's out-of-control behavior that led a Phoenix police officer and school staff members to handcuff her, restrain her feet and force her to take prescribed medication - all in front of a classroom full of third-graders.

That's the scenario parents and police painted Friday night at Lakeview Elementary, where Washington Elementary School District administrators held a meeting to address the concerns of about 100 parents, many of whom were enraged.

If this was the sum total of the story, it would just be a tragedy. But wait! There’s more, and here’s where it gets completely off the chain (emphasis mine):

Early Tuesday, the girl's mother called police, saying she could not control her child. Phoenix police Officer William Buividas, 22, responded and handcuffed the girl with permission from her mother, police spokeswoman Sgt. Lauri Williams said.

Then the mother, escorted by Buividas, took her child to school near Peoria and 30th avenues in Phoenix, where students in the girl's third-grade class witnessed the handcuffing.

"She was handcuffed, and she was screaming," said Cole Buxbaum, 8, a third-grade classmate.

The children were later told by school staff members not to tell their parents, according to parents and their children.

This child was so out of control that a police officer handcuffed her, with her parent’s permission. So what does the mom decide? Let’s dump her off on the school! They take her to school, still enraged, and turn her loose on an unsuspecting classroom! She then has to be restrained again!

How many people agree that this woman has the right to disrupt the educations of the thirty other kids in the classroom? She could already not control her child that day—and I’m not being unsympathetic to the fact that the child may have severe behavioral issues—but she loses me when she considers a schoolroom to be a time out room for her own personal convenience. Then there's the fact that administrators felt it necessary to restrain this screaming, kicking dervish in front of the rest her classmates. And don’t think that the parents of the other children in the padded cell classroom didn’t protest the insanity:

Bewildered parents questioned why the girl was allowed to come to school and then remain in a classroom where children were trying to learn.

A later column on this same situation included the following claims:

The school officials were merely trying to follow the law. Because of a 1975 court decision that gives public school students the right to a hearing before being suspended, it has become difficult to justify the removal of a disruptive student from the classroom.

In fact, had the Lakeview school authorities refused to allow the child, who had already been handcuffed by the police officer, access to the classroom, they could have been charged with disobeying federal law. The mother could have then sued and likely would have won a hefty settlement.

Undoubtedly, the unruly girl interfered with the other children's right to learn. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) that children in public schools have free expression rights under the First Amendment.

The court sided with teenagers who had worn black armbands in their public schools in 1965 to protest the Vietnam conflict. Several ensuing rulings have further protected what could be described as a student's right to act and dress outrageously in our public schools….

The incident was unavoidable. The school had to allow the obviously upset girl to attend school that day because her mother had insisted upon it. The lady was within her rights.

The problem here is that the school district has refused to make a stand in the face of insanity. Whoever believes that the 1975 case, Goss , et al. v. Lopez, et al. prevents students from being suspended for dangerous behavior has obviously not read the case (emphasis mine):

“The Due Process Clause will not shield [a student] from suspensions properly imposed, but it disserves both his interest and the interest of the State if his suspension is in fact unwarranted…. There need be no delay between the time "notice" is given and the time of the hearing. In the great majority of cases the disciplinarian may informally discuss the alleged misconduct with the student minutes after it has occurred. We hold only that, in being given an opportunity to explain his version of the facts at this discussion, the student first be told what he is accused of doing and what the basis of the accusation is. Since the hearing may occur almost immediately following the misconduct, it follows that as a general rule notice and hearing should precede removal of the student from school. We agree with the District Court, however, that there are recurring situations in which prior notice and hearing cannot be insisted upon. Students whose presence poses a continuing danger to persons or property or an ongoing threat of disrupting the academic process may be immediately removed from school. In such cases, the necessary notice and rudimentary hearing should follow as soon as practicable, as the District Court indicated.

Likewise, the Tinker case certainly does not shelter the behavior the girl engaged in as “free speech.” What idiocy! All that would be required is that the girl and/or her guardian be informed about why she would merit a consequence such as suspension. She and her mother do not have to agree or be happy about it.

It appears that this school district has given up in the fight to ensure that its non-disabled students have the right to a free, fair, and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. They have allowed this parent to use a place of learning as her own private dumping ground. This child should never have been allowed in the door, just as we should never allow students who are under the influence to sit in our classrooms and possibly hurt themselves or others. Had they shown some backbone, there wouldn’t be any discussion about forcibly restraining this girl in front of her classmates or of forcing her to take her prescription. The principal and the school psychologist would not be suspended right now.

Shame on the mother. Shame on school officials.


At 11/30/05, 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't make this stuff up. I'm incredulous. But find it totally believable.

At 11/30/05, 4:24 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I wish I had made it up. I tell my students that the weirdest thing about the stories I tell them in history class is that they're all true.

At 11/30/05, 6:14 PM, Blogger Fred said...


At 11/30/05, 9:10 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

Heaven forbid this child kept MOM from doing whatever she must do that day. IMO, a child does not get to age 8 and act like this without gross neglect by the parent. And in this day and age, there is lots of social services, county public health, etc. help available for parents of such children.

And sadly, another case of the "rights" of the minority (the out-of-control child) superseeding the "rights" of the majority (the many other students in the school and in her class).


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