Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Parents seek change to school discipline policy

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Birmingham News staff writer

A dozen Hoover parents met with lawyers Monday at the Hoover Public Library to plan an "attack on all fronts" against what they called Hoover schools' harsh discipline policy, and to consider seeking legislation that spells out student rights.

Attorney Rick Lyerly, also a Hoover school parent, circulated a petition asking the Hoover Board of Education to publicly disavow "zero tolerance"; to rewrite the code of conduct for clarity; and to consider prior record and intent when meting out punishments.

"We're not against discipline. We're against draconian discipline that isn't appropriate to the offense," Lyerly said.

Hoover school officials say they weigh each case individually and don't have a zero tolerance policy.

Lyerly is representing Spain Park High School student Cameron Mitchell, who was sent to alternative school in January after a friend discharged a paintball gun in Mitchell's car as they were leaving the school, scaring other students. The gun was not loaded with paintballs. School officials say the friend pointed the gun at students.

Mitchell and his friend were sent to the Crossroads alternative school for the rest of the year and barred from school activities.

The incident was a rallying point for parents who say the school system treats all offenses the same.

Cameron Mitchell's mother, Virginia Mitchell, said the board ignored a blitz of e-mails from her son's supporters, who testified to his character. She is appealing the school transfer in Shelby County Juvenile Court.

Lyerly said the system's code of conduct is too vague. For example, a weapons violation includes, "Involvement with anything that might be considered a weapon, either real or look-a-like. ..." Lyerly said principals enforce the rules differently and the school board, which hears appeals, sidesteps responsibility by "rubber stamping" what the principals decide.

E-mail: eellaby@bhamnews.com

I am all for getting rid of the zero-tolerance policies in schools, but this is an interesting case. First, I'm not so sure that these kids didn't deserve a stiff punishment for the paintball gun incident. With all of the school shootings happening I imagine that whoever saw this paintball gun and heard it discharged was terrified that they were about to be shot or were about to witness a shooting. Surely these kids with the gun knew better and were aware of the severity of the offense. I don't have a great deal of sympathy for them in this instance.

Having said that I do believe that zero-tolerance policies are nothing but pipelines to prison for youth. There are zero-tolerance law incidents all across the country that point to a great need to get rid of them. A few years ago in BHAM a young teen girl took a Midol for cramps and was reported by her teacher to the principal. She was later sent to an alternative school for violating the school's 'zero-tolerance drug policy'. That, my friends, is complete bullshit. There have also been stories of kindergartener's expelled for hugging each other or brushing a teacher's boob by accident as these things are considered "sexual harassment". Isn't that a bit much? Do 5-year-olds really know enough about sex to harass someone with it? I think not.

Alternative schools and 'boot camp' style set-ups are a great place to turn a good kid, who made a small mistake, into a career criminal. There are some really bad kids there and no one who hasn't committed an extreme act of violence against another person should ever have to go. Much the same with non-violent pot smokers being sent to prison to bunk with rapists, murderers, child molesters and other REAL CRIMINALS. Gee....that's just fucking brilliant! Let's create more criminals!

All these kinds of rules do is take away the power of the school officials to use common sense when doling out punishment. Not that many of them have a great deal of common sense, mind you, but those that do ought to be allowed to use them. Zero-tolerance is a one-size-fits-all type deal (kinda like No Child Left Behind) and those kinds of programs are destined to fail.


-Sepp said...

I agree, the midol incident was a load of shit but, if the parents of Birmingham think they have it bad now, let em visit a school here in Toledo or, Detroit where the nuts have taken over the nuthouse or, lol,have them send their kids up here to go to school! The jackass who pointed the "empty" paintball gun out of the car window would have gotten some 9mm return fire around here from some kids, no matter how innocent his mommy would have spun the story. The fact is that THE KIDS behavior has dictated the punishment policies. The parents who are blind (or just don't care) what the kid's are doing nowadays still keep trying to measure what happens in the schools with what went on in the schools 20 years ago. Think about that. The hall monitor and the paddle have been replaced with cops who carry guns. When we were kids, a knife being brought to school was a big thing, now they have metal detectors at the doors because gangbangers carry guns to school and will use them.
"Zero tolerance" issues should be case by case" but, those kids know right from wrong. The rules are spelled out in 3rd grade level language. Why not hold them to a level of responsibility? The 98% of the other kids who show up to learn something are already suffering enough because of what a minority of these jackasses are doing are doing.

Dan said...

"With all of the school shootings happening I imagine that..."

What school shootings?

Loretta Nall said...

Scuse' my use of the present tense. You know what I meant.

Anonymous said...

From what I heard about the facts about this case, the paintball gun was without paintballs and the gun was never discharged or directed at any students. The school officals chose to believe the conflicting accounts of several middle school kids rather than the account from the track coach that said that the kids did not appear to be frightened. I know the mother and this student (he is a fine young man). He was "guilty" of leaving it in his vehicle from a previous weekend excursion w/ friends...paintballing (a sport). He and his friend were sent the alternative school for the duration of the year AFTER a 3 day suspension.

This mother is fighting the zero tolerance policy which does not take into account a student's lack of prior disciplinary record. This policy equates and gives the same punishment for use of (for example) Tylenol and/or marijuana. This is a problem that is spanning our country. We need common sense and discretion when dealing with kids that will make mistakes.

Loretta Nall said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing another side of the story. I can believe what you said about the incident. Everyday I read stories about 5-year-olds being arrested for sexual harassment and such. Just today I read about a young girl with no disciplinary record being arrested for writing "okay" on a school desk. She was handcuffed in front of other students, placed in the back of a police car, taken to jail and chained to a pole for three hours.

I agree with you that zero-tolerance policies are absolutely retarded. Basically, with zero-tolerancem policies, they have outlawed youthful indiscretion. It is no longer legal to be a kid and do things that kids do like, write on your desk, touch your kindergarten classmate, take a tylenol, get into a minor fight, smoke a little pot when you get to high school.... All of those things will now earn you a criminal record, a humiliating arrest in front of your peers at a very impressionable age, a mark, so to speak that your peers will never let you forget.... and the cops will always have you in their gunsights from there on out.....My god, the whole process is nothing but a way to mark kids for the next generation of prison inmates.