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Sign doesn't warrant punishment

Published May 14. 2011 09:02AM

There's a town in Connecticut called Shelton and in this town there is a high school. In the high school is a senior named James Tate. James, being a romantic, wanted to ask a girl to the prom. His friends made a contest out of the most creative way to ask her, so he comes up with the idea of hanging a message of 12 inch tall letters on the front of the school that she would see when she comes to school. So he and his two friends went to the school during the night and hanged their banner. The next morning his crush saw the sign and said yes, but the school administrators and Superintendent Freeman Burr saw the same sign and decided to punish the boys.

What punishment does hanging a banner on the school in the middle of the night earn? A one day suspension and a ban from the prom for the three boys. The story hit the wire on Wednesday and within a day two major sites CNN and Fox News both had polls that agreed. (Imagine that). Over 95 percent of the people who answered the poll said the punishment is too harsh for the crime.

I happen to agree with the majorities in that the punishment for this prank is totally overboard. To steal the prom, a once in a lifetime affair, from a boy whose crime was being a romantic is inane. The administrators of this school are out of their minds with this punishment. It is not like he painted the message on the school defacing public property or destroyed anything in the middle of the night to make his point. He hung about sixty paper letters on a building wall, on the outside of the building.

This is crazy. This ranks up there with zero tolerance policies that cause the expulsion of a six year old with a pair of nail clippers or someone with a pair of blunt scissors from home being suspended. I am really tired of reading about administrators that hide behind the letter of the law without respecting the spirit of the law.

I have heard the arguments. Schools have to parent kids now, because too many parents out there are too dumb to raise their own children or self-absorbed to care about them which is the subject of a whole other column. That may be true, but to blindly enforce policy with no compassion to me shows a lack of humanity and people without backbones. Unfortunately this falls into the box that so much of society usually finds itself.

The scenario: Administrator demonstrates backbone and makes a decision based on facts and not some legalese on a piece of paper. Something happens next time and the moronic parent who is involved sues because the administrator isn't treating person two the same as person one, never mind that person one may have never done anything wrong while person two is a habitual rule breaker. Court says that the first decision was a precedent to the second decision because the judge has no guts either and school loses a lot of money.

Who wins? The lawyers. Everything in our society distills down to the simple premises that people are spoiled and when someone says no they sue. Some dumb lawyer sees dollars and doesn't tell the person they are stupid and instead argue a case that is ridiculous. Company or school or other organization is blackmailed into settling to avoid millions of dollars in legal fees. Lawyers on both sides walk away with most of the money and everyone else suffers.

In this particular case either Burr has no guts to be sensible because he is afraid of setting a precedent that is only a precedent because people find it easier to fall back on that instead of telling someone "no because I said so," or he truly is a petty vindictive person who feels robbing students of a once in a lifetime event for the academic equivalent of jay walking is justified. Either way I think he is wrong and should be disciplined for his ridiculous punishment.

People wonder why schools are failing and cyber schools and home schooling are on the rise. It's because of shoot-from-the-hip administrators and dumb parents who are forcing teachers to be babysitters for their spoiled children which is making it difficult for a decent student to get an education. School boards wonder why they are losing funding. This story is an example of why people continue removing their kids from the school system. We don't want our six year olds suspended over nail clippers or our seniors banned from the prom for pulling a non-violent, non-damaging prank. We don't want people robbing our elementary school students of their innocence by teaching them about sex and assuming we want them to know about birth control before they even reach a double digit age. And if I lived in Shelton, Connecticut, I would let James Tate go to his prom and demand that Superintendent Burr be suspended instead.

Til next time…

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