I saw this story over at Michelle Malkin’s earlier today and nearly posted on it. But time is tight today so I passed. Then a reader sent me this link and I changed my mind.
Here’s the story:
A high school student was suspended for 10 days for refusing to end a cell phone call with his mother, a soldier serving in Iraq, school officials said. The 10-day suspension was issued because Kevin Francois was “defiant and disorderly” and was imposed in lieu of an arrest, Spencer High School assistant principal Alfred Parham said.
The confrontation Wednesday began after the 17-year-old junior got a call at lunchtime from his mother, Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, who left in January for a one-year tour with the 203rd Forward Support Battalion.
Cell phones are allowed on campus but may not be used during school hours. When a teacher told him to hang up, he refused. He said he told the teacher, “This is my mom in Iraq. I’m not about to hang up on my mom.”
The student was apparently quite rude and used obscenities. When there was a struggle for the phone, the call was cut. School officials didn’t allow the student to answer the phone when his mother called back.
While I’m not terribly impressed with the 10-day suspension, I’ve got to admit that I’m not all up in arms about this. Yes, I know his mother is in Iraq. And yes, I know that things are probably tough for both the student and his mother due to the separation. Yes, I also know that getting a time when both are available to talk on the phone is probably difficult.
But the school has a job to do, and part of that job is to maintain order. That’s difficult when you don’t enforce the rules fairly. If exceptions are made for this sort of thing, then not only will the school have to continue to make exceptions for this sort of thing in the future, but the sorts of things that the exceptions are made for will become an issue. As will determining whether the excuses made by students are legit or not.
It’s too bad (and probably more than a bit excessive) that the student was suspended for ten days. It’s also too bad that the student couldn’t have made arrangements beforehand, or at least not reacted in such a disruptive way.
As much as I’d like to rip on a public school for something (for anything, really, now that you mention it) and especially for appearing to not support the troops or their families, I can’t really blame them for not allowing the phone call.
I know that’s not going to go over well with a lot of my readers. But I call ’em as I see ’em.
UPDATE: According to the story that Malkin linked to, the student went outside the school building when the call came. That’s good and bad.
It’s good in the sense that the student wasn’t making a disruption in the lunch room (or wherever he was at the time) or publicly flaunting the school’s rules.
But it’s also not good since the school can’t just let kids wander outside when a call comes in. That really would just make the problem worse.
It’s probably asking for too much on my part, but I sure wish that this had been arranged with his mother and officials ahead of time so that the student could have used a school office or some other place where it would be clear that he was talking on the phone with permission and that he was talking to who he said he was talking to. If anyone else has extraordinary circumstances like this, then they’d be obliged to arrange the call with officials as well.
Also according to that story:
[Assistant Principal] Parham said the student used profanity when he was taken into the office. He said he tried to work out something with the student. But Francois said he was too frustrated he couldn’t answer the phone when his mother called him the second time.
“I even asked Kevin, ‘You know we can try to work something out to where if your mother wants to call you she can call you at the school,'” Parham said. “So we’ve tried to work with Kevin and we’re going to continue to try to work with Kevin and his mother and his relatives. In the course of good order and discipline, we have to abide by our policy.”
That’s basically what I’m talking about.
Unless the school is flat-out lying (which isn’t unheard of, of course) I’m siding with them on this one. But if the student ever needs a phone to call his mom in Iraq, I’ll lend him mine.
UPDATE 2: It looks like the phone lines to that school are going to be busy. Places are posting contact info and really piling on. This is a regrettable incident, but I don’t think over-reaction will help, either.
UPDATE 3: According to my Site Meter, right after I posted this someone followed the trackback from Malkin’s. Probably Malkin or one of her staff. (Does she have a staff? She posts so much and is so on top of things she must have someone helping out…)
I’m way on the other side of this issue from her, and if it was indeed her checking my post out, I might not score any more links from her. Sigh.
UPDATE 4 (05/07/05): Wow. I had no idea that this was going to turn into such a hot topic. Obviously, from reading over the comments, most readers on this site are really upset about things. And unhappy with me for my position on this.
I’d like to summarize that position:
- I agree with a rule against cell phone use in school
- I understand that the mother getting through to her son was probably a very difficult thing to pull off
- The student reacted badly by defying the teacher and cursing
- The teacher may have reacted badly by trying to physically take the phone
- They should have allowed the student to answer the phone when his mother called back, at least to explain why he couldn’t talk
- I don’t think that a 10-day suspension was probably warranted
- This could have been prevented by a little forethought on both sides
I’m only going off the news reports that I’ve linked to above. I’ve had people comment to me and I’ve read comments on other sites that claim the teacher “assaulted” the student. If that’s truly the case, something needs to be done about it. But it doesn’t change my position on the student taking the cell phone call.
One commenter asked me to put myself in the student’s shoes for a minute and let them know how I would have acted. Well, that doesn’t take a minute. It doesn’t take any time at all, in fact. As I’ve already said several times already, I would have tried to make arrangements for this sort of thing beforehand.
Yes, this is a pretty crappy situation. A few years ago this could not have possibly happened since kids didn’t have cell phones. Now taking calls from deployed parents is being treated like some sort of Constitutional right.
I guess a list of acceptable calls needs to be made. Deployed parents are obviously on it. Then you have to decide if deployed siblings are on the list. Deployed aunts or uncles? How about your deployed best friend? What if they’re deployed to South Korea and not Iraq or Afghanistan? What if they’re deployed to a probable combat zone (like the Marines in Somalia right now) but it’s a zone that isn’t in the news or widely known or doesn’t have campaign medals? “Sorry, Jimmy…Uzbekistan isn’t on the list. You need to hang up.”?
Once you have the list of allowed phone calls for deployed soldiers finalized, you then have to make lists for other allowed calls, as well. Unless you think everyone who isn’t a soldier will simply agree that only soldiers should be able to call their kids in school.
Then you need to enforce the list. And you will need to constantly need to defend it against those who think it’s unfair that THEIR special interest group didn’t make the cut.
And pretty soon every student will be getting phone calls. If asked, they’ll all be from people on the list. Is the teacher going to take the phone and verify it?
That won’t happen. The school will simply ban cell phones entirely, and it will probably be enforced by some sort of half-assed “zero tolerance” policy, as well. That won’t help anyone, and will hurt many.
Alternatively, a policy could (and should) be set up to allow students to get permission beforehand for this sort of call. It’s still a little work and oversight on the school and it requires forethought on the part of the student, but it seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise to me.
My understanding is that the cell phone policy at this school allowed them to be in school but not turned on during normal school hours. Since the student received the call, he obviously knew that it was coming. Or that it MIGHT be coming anyway, as I realize these aren’t sure things with deployed soldiers. So why couldn’t he have tried to set something up with school officials beforehand?
This is absolutely a hardship for deployed soldiers and their families. If you are a regular reader of my site, or if you take the time to look around instead of just piling on, you’ll realize that I’m a very strong supporter of our troops and their missions.
With the limited information available, I simply don’t see this as a situation that calls for phone-in campaigns and riots in the streets.