Sunday, May 15, 2011

The James Tate Conundrum

here have been two news stories that I've been paying attention to this week. One was all over the place, and the other I just happened to see when I opened my Yahoo home page. The first story was about Connecticut high school senior James Tate. James Tate, the young romantic, entered his school's campus way after hours (around 1 a.m.) to tape a cardboard prom proposal to one of his classmates. Awwwww...and she said yes!!!

But, young James had to be punished. The principal gave him a 1 day in-school suspension. Boooooo!!! But, it gets worse...young James made to fatal mistake of getting suspended after the April 1st deadline.

You see, the school has a policy that if a child is suspended after April 1st he or she cannot attend the school prom. This rule was delivered numerous times to the students via intercom announcements, letters and phone calls to parents, and signs around the school. It wasn't like he had just heard about it that day.

Dr. Beth Smith the school headmaster steadfastly refused to lift the ban. All week long, this woman was bashed for following the rules to the letter. So, let me get this straight...James broke the rules and is praised because it was cute, and Dr. Smith is punished for following the rules because she is "an evil, vindictive, meany, who was probably never invited to prom and is punishing this nice young boy for doing something so sweet, and she probably just needs to get laid." By the way, those were some of the printable comments about Dr. Smith, who once again was following the rules.

Now for those of you who don't know, schools have these lame rules for a reason. They are called deterrents. Stupid, you say? Well, then I would love to see you try to run a school during the last few weeks, when teenagers do all kids of "sweet" things. If you think we are all meanies, on your day off, go to the local district and sign up to be a substitute teacher. Go in and try to be fun for a class period. I can guarantee you that you won't come back to get another $40 pay check.

Many schools have instituted Zero tolerance policies because of all of the very real, very scary events that happen in schools every where. Schools institute rules for a reason. You may not like them, but they have to have them. Let me give you a few "stupid" rules.

A girl was banned from prom because she missed the last few class periods to get her hair and nails done for the occasion. Yes, it has happened. "This rule is stupid," the kid cries. Well, here is why schools have these rules. It is not just prom; it is all extra-curricular activities. Some schools require you to attend 80-90% of the school day in order to participate in a school sponsored extra-curricular activity. Why? Because there were days when half a class would skip school to get ready for prom, or athletes would skip school to "rest" before the big game. You weren't able to attend class because you were "sick," but your miraculous recovery right before the game is inspiring. Johnny, you are riding the pine, and Susie, you can ride around town in a limo and enjoy the view. Extra-curricular activities are a privilege not a right.

Schools have banned Valentine cards, bouquets, and balloons, because they are a distraction. "Booooo," say the kids. Well, here is why. A parent sued because poor Sue didn't receive one, the school is inundated with flower trucks and delivery vans (that's not a distraction), the school has to end school early to hand out the deliveries. My high school banned these my junior year, because that year there were enough deliveries to cover practically every table in the cafeteria, and parents were furious when their precious baby didn't get their balloons, because the staff was overwhelmed by both children and flowers.

A child was suspended for forgetting to remove his box cutter from work from his backpack. "I forgot he had it," the child screams. It's not fair. Well, here is why. Little Susie forgot to remove her box cutter from work from her purse. She saw her boyfriend Johnnie kissing Annie by the cafeteria. Trying to cool off in the girl's restroom, Susie searched through her purse for a lipstick and sees the box cutter. She sees Johnnie enter the bathroom. She walks in kicks open the stall and cuts up Johnnie. Johnnie lives but is scarred for life. The names have changed but that was a true story that happened here in Mississippi, my first year teaching.

Now, back to James, the reason he was suspended for this little adventure was because of several incidents that happened after school hours that resulted in the deaths or severe injury of students see here , here, here, and here. But, James was on a ladder, and he had a helmet. That's not the point. The reason the rule is there is to deter accidents when there is no supervision on campus, because it can (and usually will) lead to a lawsuit. One of those falls did. Even though the child was clearly in the wrong, one of the schools was sued, and in that case, the parents won. The child's name in the case wasn't revealed because of privacy laws, but that trickled down to our school. We have had to take preventatives for the same reason. You do realized that she could have had him arrested (that has happened in our area because of real defacing of property as pranks). Then, he would have had a record. No, she simply followed the rules, and now she has been berated by media and finger-waggers all over the world for punishing sweet James (who by the way had accepted his punishment for which I give him credit).

So, this morning it was announced that James will get to take his date to the prom after all. Dr. Smith relented and let James go. But what about the others? That's right, it didn't just happen to James. James had the media on his side, however. What about the others suspended after April 1st? You know in a school that size there was more than just James suspended. The media apparently didn't care about those kids, just sweet James. Now, Dr. Smith...good luck fielding the calls from the parents of the other students (who probably committed worse offenses) suspended after April 1st who want their ticket to prom punched, too.

Until next time, From a common-sense standpoint, you're probably on the right road. The problem is, you're opening a can of worms you might not be able to shut. That might cause more problems than it solves~Kelvin Sampson


  1. You could be prohibited from the prom even if you were only suspended for one day? That's stupid.

  2. I like this post! While I understand, I do disagree on "zero tolerance" for anything. I think there should always be an exception to the rule. A child who brings a plastic knife in a lunch box should not be suspended for possessing a weapon. A child who is defending himself/herself in a fight should have a chance to plea their case before suspension is considered. Teachers have way too much to do and can't be around to help everyone in need. Sometimes children have to make decisions on their own and there's a reason why we call them "kids." So, I do think James should have been suspended for what he did, flowers/balloons should be banned, and box cutters "accidentally" brought to school should not be tolerated. But, I don't believe that one rule fits all.