Murdoc not rocking on this one

Teen suspended over call from mom in Iraq

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.


  1. I have to say that I grudgingly agree with you, though this sounds like another case of ‘zero tolerance’ gone a bit wrong. I’ll be satisfied if the school takes this case and uses it as a learning experience so that next time this happens, there are policies in place to accomodate extraordinary circumstances. Breaking the rules seems to require a suspension, but I think it would be a nice gesture if the school would be big about it and pay for a future call to Iraq form the kid, before or after school hours. Or send some care packages or something.

  2. It is amazing that one who thinks that following the rules at all costs runs such a site as yours. It would be nice if you followed all copyright laws, but you do not. Hint, fair use doesn’t allow the copying of entire articles and/or pictures. Why is it OK for you to break the LAW yet wrong for this 17 year old to break a stupid rule?

  3. Sorry, I didn’t see the part where Murdoc mentioned ‘at all costs’. I only saw the part where he explained why, in this particular case, he wasn’t going to get ultra-angry at the school. Maybe you read part of the post I missed, can you please point that out? Or, perhaps you’re intentionally attempting to mischaracterize his position. In which case, the likes of you has no place in an informed debate, or even discussion. But I’m sure that’s *not* the case, I’m sure I just missed the part where Murdoc claimed that the rules needed to be followed at all costs. Thanks in advance for pointing that part of the post out, Bob. Looking forward to it.

  4. Bob – it is ignorance like yours that makes the world the way it is today. You probably went to a school where cell phones and other distractions were welcomed over education, which is why you are ignorant enough to draw a correlation to Murdoc’s statement about this issue and a ‘follow the rules at all costs’ mentality. This is a case of a rule being enforced and a teenager getting an attitude about it. It’s not the rule causing the suspension, it is the student’s behavior. It’s nice to know that people like you support this kind of disrespect against society. I am sure that murderers are justified and good people too?? Way to support the downfall of our children and country.

  5. Yes, ‘zero tolerance’ is often pretty ‘zero intelligence’. But I happen to think the rule against cell phone use is a reasonable one. The teacher was enforcing it. Maybe too harshly. Maybe the student mouthed off first and initiated the struggle. The story doesn’t say. Isn’t ‘there’s no discipline’ a common complaint against public schools? That doesn’t mean the teachers should rule with an iron fist. But it does mean that the students should be expected to follow the rules or at least try to make arrangement in special situations. I agree that a compromise would be in order. It seems to me that both side acted badly.

  6. It’s nice to know that people like you support this kind of disrespect against society. I am sure that murderers are justified and good people too?? Way to support the downfall of our children and country.’ And that is from the ‘reasonable’ pro-suspension side. Disrespect against society, downfall of our country. No wonder schools feel empowered to such idiocy, with chicken littles like espinoza egging them on.

  7. I’m on your side. I don’t see why this has become an issue of not supporting the troops. Part of giving these kids an education is having rules and order. Having allowed that kid to have his phone call is to have the admin spend a lot of time explaining to the other kids why he’s the exception — none of the explanations would be sufficient to people who are at-the-know-it-all age.

  8. I respect your opinion on this, but in my family, when one of the kids steps out of line, if they aren’t a danger to themselves or others, I let them do as they are doing and talk to their father with the offender when Dad gets home and we decide on a punishment. That teacher shouldn’t have had a projectile hissy fit and dragged him to the office and just let Kevin be and run to the office himself and called his dad. (Kevin’s, not the teachers.) There are bombings going on all over the place over there. It’s the weekend before Mother’s Day and I doubt that she could reach him any other day. (I called my mom earlier this week just so I could get through.) What if God-forbid his mother gets hurt or killed before she talks to him again? The Iraqis celebrate by firing off their automatics even in friendly areas when they are happy! Pat Tilman got killed by friendly fire. . . she is more likely to get hurt there than if she were shopping at a whites sale and merely called to find out what size underwear he wears. Kids whose parents are in these situations should get a pass on zero-tolerance and be left alone. It’s not like his mom calls every week.

  9. Hmmmmm! Rulz iz rulz and there should be no exception for the son of a deployed soldier? Let’s see, Mom probably stood in line for a couple of hours (probably in the heat as it is rising this time of year while of course we all sit here on our keyboards quite comfortable and I bet the school is pretty confortable too seeing as they don’t have to worry about stupid stuff like VBIEDs or dyin’). Hasn’t spoken with Mom in what? almost a month? (that’s OK, the rest of the kids can just wait until after school and see Mom at home – no problem! Dam* kid probably thinks that he’s special because his Mom is laying her life on the line so the school can have the freedom to make rules – geez, he needs to get a clue!) A teacher tried to forcibly remove the cell phone from a teenager speaking with his Mom? (lucky it wasn’t me at that age ’cause the teacher would’ve been picking some teeth out of the dirt – but then we didn’t have cell phones – and all soldiers were baby killers anyway so no one wanted to talk to one to begin with) Seems to me there’s enough disrespect going on from both sides to start a large size fire. It was handled improperly by both sides. The idea of routing a phone call through the school switchboard is a farce. By the time the kid gets to the call Mom’s time is up and it’s all over. Aw, screw those dam* Doggies anyway. They need to suck it up and get tough. They can talk all they want when they get home. Why should we give special privileges to some punk kid with a bad mouth just because she’s off getting all that combat pay and stuff. Geez, you’d think the kid would make sure he followed the rules at the very least! Dam* kids! Next thing you know those sorry soldiers will be wanting stuff like food, bullets, and kevlar! How dare they try to call home on our nickle! They’ve got a job to do and they should only call school switchboards on their own friggin’ time! The sheer audacity really ticks me off! I say expel the kid! Who does he think he is anyway? That’s why we have rules and stuff!

  10. This is my first time to this site. I just wanted to let you know that I disagree with you on this subject. I understand that students need to follow the rules, but teacher need to think outside the box once in a while and this is a good example of when to do the thinkin. Unless this mom has some privilege that most other soldiers do not hold, her son cannot call her but must wait for mom to call him. The time of day that a soldier calls is not always ‘convenient’ but receiving the call does become a priority when it happens. The ‘intent’ behind jarheaddad’s comment above is my position exactly. However, I’m not going to get upset by your opinion because it appears to be based on a lack of knowledge of what families go through when someone they have a loved one who is deployed. I do however, place more responsibility on the teacher. It is my expectation that teachers have a little compassion for those they teach. From what I have read thus far, the profanity from the kid did not start until they were headed to the office…which means it was most likely after his mom was hung up on. Try to put yourself in the shoes of that kid for a minute, then let me know how you would have acted differently.

  11. Wow! Lot of opinionated posting. Of course I never do that. LOL! What strikes me about most of these posts, and all the opinionating is many are saying ‘the way it should be’ based on 4th or 5th or hand information. None of us were there, none of us saw the incident. How anyone can anyone say the school, teacher, principal, kid, etc, etc were right, wrong, or indifferent without witnessing what happened, the order it happened in, the context it happened in, how it got said and so on. Too many are emoting over this and making assumptions about what happened or the way it happened. Observing the totality of the incident cirucumstances would seem to be essential before ‘shooting the guilty’ LOL! I (and several hundred million others over the years) made it through school without instant communication devices being available (discounting the odd ‘five up side the head’ from irritated teachers). Gotta admit I don’t see any pressing need for kids to have them in class or school now. It’s something you want, not something you need. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to see any child (regardless of age) not get to talk to their parent who’s serving overseas.

  12. 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.’ So you understand when the cop doesn’t cut you slack, or the IRS audit treats you as just another number, or the Judge uses only one standard of punishment for each crime? We don’t need humans in the system anymore if no human judgement is required. That’s why children are suspended for taking aspirin to school these days cause ‘if we make one execption now, we’ll have to make exceptions on hard drugs’. So why are we paying these people real money if they can’t make real judgements, like the grade assessed for performance? It doesn’t require a degree in rocket science or a rules manual the size of the Public Library to have common sense.

  13. I have a kid in Iraq. I take her calls at 3 AM, I take them at noon. I take them at 5 PM. She doesn’t have a schedule, she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to call again. When she calls we don’t know if the connection will last 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes. The call starts with I Love You, because in 8 months, we’ve never finished a conversation without being cut off. There’s a war on, I realize that it is a ‘made for TV movie’ for most folks. Try going to the post office on a monday morning. There is a long line of people with 1000 yard stares.

  14. The details of this story remain sketchy as he said/they said usually does. However, as the wife of a soldier who recently returned from a deployment, I will say that I carried my cell phone with me twenty four hours a day. I answered it wherever and whenever it rang with a call from him. The ONE time I forgot my phone and I missed his call, I became physically ill. Those calls kept me going & I was fortunate that I heard from my husband more than this boy is able to hear from his mom. And, had anyone come between me & my husband’s call, I doubt I would have stopped at obscenities. Physical violence would have surely been my visceral response–desperate times and all. So, while I don’t think this was handled well on its face, I can certainly relate to the boy’s desire to take that call & not be interrupted. And, how the school thought they could ‘arrange’ phone calls from his mom shows how completely out of touch they are with what communication is like for our soldiers right now.

  15. I added an update (#4) to the post to further explain my position. Melinda: Yes, I totally agree that the school’s offer to take the call for him on a school phone wouldn’t work. But their job isn’t to be in touch with what communication is like for our soldiers right now. If someone would explain it to them then they could make arrangements for the student to take calls on his cell phone.

  16. But it’s also not good since the school can’t just let kids wander outside when a call comes in.’ How dare anyone go outside during their lunch break, exposure to sunlight causes cancer, and the next thing you know the school will be on the loosing end of a lawsuit for allowing the student in a dangerous envioroment that contributes to cancer.

  17. Melinda: From a number of different reports I’ve read, the school actually HAS made arrangements with other students for this kind of situation, though they didn’t go into the details of what the arrangements were. Apparently this student and parent made a concious decision NOT to work with the school on this. If you want to make absolutely sure that you have the best chance possible to take that call, why wouldn’t they work with the school, knowing that he might have to take a call during school hours? Also reported (lots of stuff is ‘reported’) is the fact that the student did not immediately tell the teacher that it was his parent on the phone. These fact all add up to exactly what Murdoc said: not getting all up in arms about this, because it frankly is not as cut and dried as the anti-school crowd likes to pretend it is.

  18. The teacher and the principal were way out of line here. They should have let him talk to his Mom first, especially when she called back, and then made arrangements for future phone calls. If the student overreacted, then punishment might be called for, but this certainly seems like a situation where the student should be cut some slack, especially since the teacher and the principal were wrong. Should the principal be suspended for 10 days for not allowing the kid to answer when his Mom called back? If not, then don’t throw the book at the kid either. Murdoc: coming up with a cell-phone policy isn’t as complicated as you make it out to be. Make exceptions for emergencies and other unusual circumstances, and tweak as necessary. Enforcement on the other hand could be tricky, but it will almost impossible to enforce any cell phone rule without earning the respect of the students in the first place. And that means don’t act like a jackass when a kid is trying to talk to his mom in Iraq.

  19. Aw, I wasn’t pickin’ on you Murdoc… well, yeah I was! heh! But in a fun sort of way. The whole thing was handled badly by all concerned. Having raised four kids in the public school system I am well aware of how things work and there’s plenty of blame to be tossed that way as well. Their CYA comeback is typical of what happens when a school gets caught playing Gestapo. Now all of a sudden there’s a report that the kid didn’t tell the first teacher that he was on the phone to his Mom in Iraq? Uh-huh! I’m buying that! On the second call as well while they were discussing it in the office? That just went down in flames now didn’t it? I wonder what form you fill out for that? 😉 Cell phones are a way of life now. I understand your reluctance to make exceptions even for deployed family but trust me when I tell you that one phone call from a loved one can change your whole outlook for a friggin’ week! Coming up with a list of ‘skool apruved’ exceptions would be an exercise in hilarity in and of itself to watch! I totally see your point. The thing that concerns me most with the whole issue is the anger thing with the young man. It really doesn’t sound like the he is handling his Mom’s deployment well. That’s something that should be addressed. And dealt with. If the school can’t handle it then there is help avaliable through the base. Either way that behavior obviously cannot be tolerated although I’d stand before the mast myself doing the same thing I’m sure. Still doesn’t let him off the hook though. But I still hold the school mostly to blame simply ’cause I want to. nananabooboo! 😮

  20. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you seem to be overlooking an important aspect of this issue that I haven’t seen anyone else address… Cell phones are allowed on campus but may not be used during school hours. If they are not allowed to use them, why allow them to have them? Would you not consider it pretty stupid to take that position on guns, drugs and other contraband. Maybe not the best example but you get the point I’m sure. If they don’t trust them to use them responsibly, which is evident in the fact they feel a need to ban them, then why allow them in the school at all? If they allow what they know can’t be responsibly used, who is the one using poor judgement here?

  21. Disclaimers: 1. I pay large sums to send my sons to a non-diocesian Catholic school. 2. My wife has taught (at various times in her life) from pre-school thru graduate school. 3. Your mileage may vary. If the school did not let him take the **second** call from his mom, as was asserted in your post, then I for one have heard everything I need to. Everything else up to that point could be easily explained as a misunderstanding. But refusing to allow him to answer the second call, or at least for the principal to answer as his proxy, is mindless (and thus meaningless) enforcement of ‘the rules.’ The administration had an opportunity to handle this situation as a ‘special circumstance’ and then to establish a revision to policy as appropriate. Schools do this all the time. Instead, they chose the ‘because the policy says so’ approach altogether too common to bureaucrats. Do you think this teen (and any other teen who’s apprised of the incident) will: a. Learn more respect for ‘the rules’ and the administration, or b. Learn that blind adherence to ‘the rules’ benefits no one, except insofar as an administration avoids having to demonstrate judgement. My kids are held to a very high standard — much higher than their cousins, as an example. But before they were 10 years old I’d already taught them that most rules that do not involve threats to life and limb have at least one exception. This administration seems to believe otherwise. Oh, and any Ed Admin who thinks that the solution is routing Mom’s call thru the school’s phone is a mindless bufoon. In all of the schools my wife’s taught in or consulted for, and even for my sons’ school (average class size: 12), the delay would be considerable. Not many folks who are deployed, even those outside the box, can count on that much time. Naw, I’ve got no sympathy for this administration. I think these guys/gals have no understanding of the war beyond the scenes on TV.

  22. loboinok: The article states that cell phones are allowed for student use before and after normal school hours for extra-curricular activities. To call mom to pick you up after practice is the example the school official gives, I think. That makes sense to me. Obviously, banning cell phones outright would make this particular scenario impossible, but I don’t think anyone is calling for *that*. zman: I agree 100% on the point about not being able to take the second call, and I said so. That doesn’t automatically mean that the school was wrong about everything else, though…

  23. Kudos to Murdoc for having his own opinion, and sticking to it, popular or not. Like Murdoc says, we do not know all the facts. I can understand the students frustration, however, the point is, if exceptions start being made, where does one draw the line? Making exceptions just complicates things, because then more and more instances turn up where exceptions could be made. Also, suspension is the normal course of actions when a stundent is abusive and screams at a teacher. Simply venting at the school and thinking it is against the soldiers and their families is untrue and unconstructive.

  24. A. In my limited teaching experence, cell phones are quite possibly the biggest disrupters of orderly instruction. I’d rather teach a class where every student was stoned than where a couple cell phones ring. The school has an amazingly compelling interest in regulating such devices, and their willingness to work out an arrangement is impressive. Has anyone thought about what would have happened if the mother had just called the school? They would have pulled the kid out of class and let him talk. B. Even if I agreed that the kid should have been allowed to use the cell, I’d still be happy that he was suspended for mouthing off and being a jackass. CIVIL disobediance is one thing, but disrespect for legit authority is completely a different issue. A ten day suspension won’t hurt him, and probably will do some good. C. It seems like a lot of the reaction, here in the comments anyway, is merely knee-jerk about the fact that its a member of the armed forces in Iraq. As far as jobs go, with the mother being, by definition female, its not even that risky. Lets take the entire iraq issue out of the picture, and think about if she had picked a MORE dangerous job on an oil rig, or fishing off the coast of alaska. Remember, I said MORE dangerous, and equally hard, if not harder for her to communicate from. Hell my friends that have worked in Alaska fishing were completely cut off from communication for weeks at a time, no mail, nothing.

  25. As an employee of the Muscogee County School District I can tell you that Spencer High School had a procedure in place for parents to call their children while they were in school. It was made public to all of the students and parents when deployments began. It was started to prevent students from being out in ‘public’ and being able to speak privately to parents without being harassed. Too bad that this has been glossed over in the news but the procedure was there in August when the boy enrolled at Spencer.

  26. I can only be grateful that I was born in the late fifties as I would hate to be a high school student in this day and age. Social issues were never a concern or discussed as we were content with enjoying our youth…In recent years we have heard of the shootings, racist hoax’s, student’s suing teachers, parent’s suing school boards, I love my vagina button’s and so on and so on! I can only wonder what these kid’s will be saying in about 30 years, as at this rate the world should be pretty much a shit hole by then. One must feel sorry for our youth.

  27. I can only be grateful that I was born in the late fifties as I would hate to be a high school student in this day and age. Social issues were never a concern or discussed as we were content with enjoying our youth…In recent years we have heard of the shootings, racist hoax’s, student’s suing teachers, parent’s suing school boards, I love my vagina button’s and so on and so on! I can only wonder what these kid’s will be saying in about 30 years, as at this rate the world should be pretty much a shit hole by then. One must feel sorry for our youth.