Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Chewing Gum

I would really like to support my local school system. I know a lot of teachers who dedicate their lives to teaching our children and helping them grow as individuals. There are a few bad apples, but I try to teach my kids that we have to learn how to deal with frustrating people, so going to school provides an opportunity to practice that skill. I am also sure that there are school administrators out there somewhere who genuinely try to provide a good environment in which kids can learn. Unfortunately, I have not met any of those administrators in the Little Rock School District (LRSD). (Although there was one assistant principal who smiled and talked in a syrupy sweet voice as she wrote my child up and assigned in-school suspension for terroristic threatening because he had a battery in his backpack. I guess Mary Poppins taught her that trick.)

Today my fourteen-year-old, Eric, came home and told us that he had to go to detention tomorrow morning or he would be suspended. I was already having a stressful day, so I might have lost it just a little bit. Translation: I screamed, "What the...!?!?!?!?!", started crying, and mumbled something about chocolate and my failure as a parent.  After I calmed down a little bit, I learned that this threat was made by the assistant principal because Eric had not served a previously-assigned detention. Eric admitted that a teacher said she was going to write him up one day last week, but she never gave him the behavior document. When he asked her about it the next day, she told him she wasn't going to turn it in. He heard nothing more about until he was threatened with a 2-day suspension.  Oh yeah, the original offense that started all of this: chewing gum.

I believe Eric.  I believe him partly because he hasn't hidden detention assignments from us before. I also have heard other stories about this teacher's inconsistencies, and the chain of events Eric describes sounds plausible. I also know that LRSD loves to throw around big punishments for minor offenses while far too many of their graduates can't complete remedial coursework at the local community college.

We called the assistant principal responsible, but he was busy with an after school program and would have to call us back. I used the waiting time to scour the LRSD handbook and the Mann Middle School handbook. The two handbooks contradict each other (Surprise!), but the Mann handbook states that "In all cases, the LRSD Rights and Responsibilities handbook takes precedence over the Mann handbook," so I focused on the LRSD rules. According to the notice I received, Eric was being suspended for "Failure to D-Hall within the time frame" (I didn't know D-Hall was a verb. Did you?) "Failure to Serve Detention" is Rule 6 of the Category 1 offenses. However, the notice then explains that not D-Halling (Is that the right conjugation of this new verb?) is a violation of Category 1-Rule 2: "Failure or Refusal to Follow Reasonable Directives of School Staff and/or School Rules and Regulations".  Either way, according to the LRSD handbook, Category 1 offenses are not punishable by out-of-school suspension.  Even if they were, can he be guilty of not serving detention if he was never notified it had been assigned? 

By the time the assistant principal called back, I was armed and ready. I opened by explaining that we try to follow the rules, and we have made arrangements for Eric to serve detention in the past and punished him according to the severity of the crime at home.  I expressed my concern that my son was being suspended when he was never properly notified of the detention in the first place. Here's how the conversation went down:

Mr. L: "Well, chewing gum is an automatic D-Hall."

Me: "Really, what page of the handbook is that on?"

Mr. L: "Well, I don't know if it's in the handbook, but your son has been going to school here for three years. He knew he was chewing gum, so he knew he had detention."

Me: "Let me get this straight. You're saying that chewing gum is an automatic detention, so every student who chews gum should report for detention automatically; no behavior document is necessary."

Mr. L: "Well, no. But if he'll come to detention tomorrow, I'll forget about this whole thing."

Me: (Taking several deep breaths.) "I don't think you understand how this is going to work. Eric was not properly notified that he had detention. According to the Mann handbook, he has five days from notification to serve his detention. If you would like to notify him properly, we will make sure he shows up for D-Hall within five days, but I will not be bullied into dragging him in tomorrow. I will, however, be happy to show up first thing tomorrow morning to compare the contradicting LRSD and Mann handbooks and look at Eric's file to see if the paper trail of behavior documents corresponds to the escalation of discipline."

Mr. L: "Well, go ahead and count this as day one. He's got five days." (Eric will show up for D-Hall the day after tomorrow.)
We continued to talk about the contradictory handbooks, and his comments made it obvious that he hadn't read either one of them. I explained that I have another child who has two more years to go there, and I want to figure out what the real rules are so I can follow them. He told me I would have to talk to the principal about that.

Here's what really aggravates me about the whole thing: Used condoms litter the football field. Security guards religiously scan the kids' belongings for drugs. These students are being taught how to answer questions on the yearly standardized test, not how to think critically. But they are worried about suspending my child, in essence, for CHEWING GUM?!?!?!?!

Before we hung up I said, "I am very concerned. If chewing gum is such a problem that you need to set an automatic detention policy that is enforceable by suspension, it must be causing a lot of trouble. I know that teenage pregnancy and drug use are bothersome, but I think we should nip this chewing gum issue in the bud. I would like to personally set up a task force to deal with this problem." He told me I would have to talk to the principal about that, too.

I just might.


alison said...

You're so awesome Deanna. We have a similar incident going on at OC. I'll have to call you about it. I'm so glad you didn't back down. Maybe you and I can co-chair this "chewing gun" task force next year???????

Invasion of the Band Geeks said...

I shouldn't say this, seeing how I'm under their jurisdiction (you know, respect to authority and all that jazz) but really, only the individual teachers care about the students, and even then, some of them don't give a flying fish about us.

Also, at Parkview, we're allowed to chew gum, unless the teacher asks us not to.

Furthermore, I have always known that Mr. L is an idi...well, I shouldn't say that. But he is incompetent.

emilysigler said...

Oh Deanna. I feel your pain, girl. After describing to my dad a conversation with the principal a few months ago, my dad said "that was a total failure of intellect." This was made more intolerable by inexcusable behavior by a staff member last week (what Alison referred to), whose denial was readily believed. And it may not surprise you that appealing at the district level ended in even more frustration. I could go on, but I won't.

Chewing gum? Really? Come on, folks! (I'm wondering if Alison typing "chewing GUN" was a freudian slip). hmmm.

wordandcraft said...

@Alison - It's on! If we can protect drug-addled teenage parents from the dangers of chewing gum, we can truly make a difference. ;)

@Band Geek - I think your comments are accurate without being inflammatory. How nice of you to respect the position of authority while recognizing the incompetence. Rock on, Steen!

@Emily, I knew you would understand! I almost called you to commiserate yesterday.

little rocker said...

I was paddled in middle school...for chewing gum. It was the class right after lunch and I forgot to spit it out. The teacher noticed and was a bully and I got what I had coming. I feel for you, Eric, don't go down my path.

Lisa said...

Go Deanna! I totally agree with you!

alison said...

oops..."gum"...not gun. I could get expelled for that comment.

Shannon said...

I just randomly came across your blog, and I have to say that your post was very entertaining, and ridiculous that it was even an issue in the first place! I find it hard to believe all the stupid rules that get in the way of education. I'm glad we have some moms like you to fight for our kids!

-AA said...

agreed. i'm in high school & they make a huge deal about chewing gum. honestly, some teachers spend more time giving lectures on gum than actually teaching. but nice blog :) i'll follow.

could you check mine out at: http://www.listenthenspeak.blogspot.com

thanks :)

joven said...

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