Back when hitch-hiking was in vogue and both hitch-hikers and drivers were being warned about the various horror stories that the transportation transaction had led to through the years, I used to wonder if a murderous hitch-hiker ever got into the car of a homicidal driver, and what ensued. This tale from Riverdale High School (yes, the same school Archie and Veronica go to, apparently), in Georgia is a little like that, though no slaughters were attempted. An ethically inert school principal grossly abused her power in response to a gratuitously cruel student. I suspect this happens rather more often than my hitch-hiking hypothetical.
Student Keandre Varner, on a lark, decided to check and see if a mug shot existed for his high school principal, Jamille Miller Brown. Sure enough, he found one, so he thought the fair, kind and responsible thing to do was 1) post it on Instagram, and 2) suggest that the mugshot arose from a DUI arrest.
Once again, we see the despicable practice of web-shaming, as Varner chose to inflict public embarrassment on his principle just because he could. This serves no good purpose, except in the rare situation where a principal has withheld an arrest for, say, eating a killer hitch-hiker from the school board or something similarly alarming, in which case additional exposure would be called for. (Bringing the information to the attention of the school system, however, not posting it to a social network, would be the ethical and responsible way to handle this.) Varner also chose to libel her, by opining that she had been arrested for something she had not; in fact Ms. Brown had been arrested for missing a court appearance that concerned a speeding ticket, which may only impugn her scheduling skills, but not her good citizenship.Two seconds of considering the Golden Rule should have dissuaded him from this stunt. Of course, his school probably is afraid to teach the Golden Rule, for fear that it would be accused of promoting religion.
So much for Varner, who was both mean and reckless with the reputation of another. Now on to Miller’s unethical reaction: she tried to have Varner arrested. The police, to their credit, refused: there was no crime here. Perhaps her theory was that she would give the kid a mug shot of his own, so there! Whatever her theory was, it was wrong, and so, I think, was her fall-back position, suspending him for “spreading misinformation.” [UPDATE: In a response to this post below, Ms. Miller adds some detail to this event, and also asserts that the claim by Varner that she tried to have him arrested is untrue. I have more reason to doubt the press and the student on this aspect of the account than her, so she has the benefit of the doubt. She also says that the account that claims she threatened other students is inaccurate.]
This is using the over-reaching anti-bullying measures currently popular (and unethical) in the schools to punish students for conduct that doesn’t involve in-school activity. Schools keep going further and further with this, when it should never be done at all: in Kansas, a student was recently suspended for criticizing the high school football team on Twitter, which is probably considered more serious than attacking a principal given the current warped priorities in society, but the suspension was still unconscionable. Student activity on social networks is none of the school’s business, just as what students say at slumber parties is none of their business. It is wrong when students are punished for writing that Suzy is fat on Facebook, and wrong when Suzy is punished for saying her teacher is a bitch on Twitter. It is equally wrong when a principal suspends a student for a personal social networking affront like this.
The principal’s most severe remedy is in the law of defamation, if she can make it stick: falsely telling the world that a school principal was arrested for drunk driving is grounds for a lawsuit, though not necessarily a winning one. Miller using her power as principal to deal with a personal quarrel, however, is an abuse of power. She also, reportedly, threatened other students with suspension if they didn’t delete her mugshot from their phones. Now she is a bona fide victim of the Streisand effect: the story is on the web, everyone knows she has been arrested (though not for drunk driving), and she has, in effect, web-shamed herself for not handling a manageable crisis with restraint and proportion. She should have asked the student for a retraction and an apology, and, if necessary, contacted his parents.
She started out as the victim in this story, and managed to turn herself into the villain.
Graphic: Universal Monster Army