Comments Of The Day: “Clash of the Ethics Dunces: The Web-shaming Student and the Angry Principal”

Tugowar

In May, Ethics Alarms opined on the reported story of a student who set out to embarrass his principal by “web-shaming” her regarding an assumed  DUI arrest that was in fact an arrest for something less serious, and her subsequent reaction, which I regarded as excessive based on the published accounts. The principal, Jamille Brown, then endeared herself to this blog by taking the time to post her own account of what occurred, and also by showing grace and good humor in the process. Now she has given us a more thorough account of the incident from her perspective, in the form of a letter she has sent to the TV station that reported the story initially, WSBTV

In response to it, our own Grand Inquisitor, tgt, has carefully critiqued her account, making some perceptive points. Together the two posts exemplify the collaborative nature of our ethical explorations here, and I am grateful for them.

Here are the Comments of the Day, by Jamille Brown and tgt, on the post “Clash of the Ethics Dunces: The Web-shaming Student and the Angry Principal”.

First, Ms. Brown:

“Jack, thank you for allowing me to share the full story. Please see below.”

“Dear Ms. Turnbull (Managing Editor WSBTV):

To put Mr. Jones’ lax reporting in its proper context, I will outline the salient facts seriately.”

“I. Salient Facts and Reckless Reporting Conducted by Tom Jones

“On or about January 11, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown was ticketed in Clayton County for speeding. She was given an original court date of February 14, 2013. On February 14th, Mrs. Miller-Brown appeared in court and the matter was rescheduled for March 21, 2013. Mrs. Miller-Brown failed to appear on March 21, 2013 and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. On or about March 29, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown’s license plate was randomly run by Fulton County Police. The bench warrant appeared and she was arrested. She was released shortly thereafter and the charges were dismissed on or about May 2, 2013.

“On or about April 2, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown, through her attorney, informed her employer of her arrest for failing to appear on the speeding citation. On or about April 30, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown informed her employer, all of the leadership staff, including all department chairs, coordinators and managers of her arrest. Subsequently, students at her school also learned of her arrest. On May 6, 2013, one of Mrs. Miller­ Brown’s students informed her that she had received an Instagram message from a classmate, Keandre Varner. The student further informed Mrs. Miller-Brown that Mr. Varner had disseminated the identical text message to students in and outside of her school. Mr. Varner’s Instagram message read as follows: “Your school ain’t turnt, unless your principal is turnt. She’s a Stoner. DUI.”

“After reading Mr. Vamer’s post, Mrs. Miller-Brown directed Mr. Varner to her office. Present in her office, in addition to Mr. Varner were Mr. Tommy Ector, athletic director, who also has administrative responsibilities and the School’s Resource Officer, Deputy Edwards. Mr. Varner admitted he posted the Instagram as a result of a dare from another student. Mr. Varner also admitted that he utilized school property to disseminate the Instagram during official school hours. Mrs. Miller-Brown advised Mr. Varner that she was arrested for failing to appear on a speeding violation. She advised him further that she was hurt by the mean spirit of his false Instagram and that he could be sued for defamation of character.

“Both Mr. Ector and Deputy Edwards confirm that Mrs. Miller-Brown never threatened to have Mr. Varner arrested. In addition, both Mr. Ector and Deputy Edwards confirm that Mrs. Miller-Brown never threatened to suspend Mr. Varner for posting her booking photograph.

“Following his admissions, Mrs. Miller-Brown telephoned Mr. Varner’s mother, Ms. Nakesha Thomas. Ms. Thomas was advised of her son’s conduct and improper use of school property during instructional hours. Ms. Thomas was further advised that her son was being suspended for four (4) days based on his improper conduct. Both Mr. Ector and Deputy Edwards, along with Mr. Varner, were present when the telephone call was made to Ms. Thomas.

“On the following day, May 7, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown was informed by Ms. Arlecia Battle, secretary to Mrs. Miller-Brown’s supervisor, that Ms. Thomas registered a complaint regarding the length of the suspension. Mrs. Miller-Brown agreed to reduce the out of school suspension to two (2) days with the remaining two (2) days to be served in school. On or about May 8, 2013, Ms. Battle, in a meeting with Mr. Varner and his mother, communicated the modified suspension to both of them. Mr. Varner, in the presence of his mother again admitted to using school property without authorization during instructional time. He also admitted that he stated that Mrs. Miller-Brown was a “Stoner. DUI.” Neither Mr. Varner nor his mother ever alleged or otherwise suggested to Ms. Battle that Mrs. Miller-Brown ever threatened to have Mr. Varner arrested or suspended for posting her photo.

“Mrs. Miller-Brown never met Mr. Varner’s parents. Her only communication was the single telephone conversation with Ms. Thomas on or about May 6, 2013. Mrs. Miller-Brown had no communication at all with any other parent or guardian regarding her arrest or photo. On or about May 8, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown met with large and small groups of students throughout the day explaining the facts that led to her arrest. She took full responsibility for her failure to appear in court and her subsequent arrest.

“At approximately 2:30pm, on May 8, 2013, Mrs. Miller-Brown was advised by staff that Mr. Varner was contacting the media regarding his suspension. WSB-TV had a news truck parked across the street from the school. On or about May 9, 2013, WSB-TV with sensational teasers, broadcast Tom Jones’ report. Mr. Jones reported Mr. Varner’s lie that Mrs. Miller-Brown “tried to get an officer to arrest Mr. Varner, but the officer refused, so he was suspended.” Prior to publishing his sensational and false report, Mr. Jones never attempted to contact Deputy Edwards to confirm the accuracy of the accusation. To date, neither Deputy Edwards nor Mr. Ector has been contacted by Tom Jones or anyone else at WSB-TV News.

“Mr. Jones exacerbated the situation further by incorrectly publishing “[o]ther parents told him their children were threatened with suspensions for having the mug shot in their phones.” Mr. Jones did not and cannot identify any parents making such allegations because Mrs. Miller-Brown did not threaten any student for having her photo in their phones.

“More disturbing is the chilling fact that Tom Jones failed to verify any fact or source. He did not even seek to confirm the exact Instagram message Mr. Varner published. This simple act of ethical journalism would have provided him a substantive basis to challenge Mr. Varner’s bogus account. Ethical and professional journalism standards militate that journalists confirm the accuracy of a story by at a minimum, interviewing witnesses with first hand information. Again, Tom Jones never spoke with Deputy Edwards or Mr. Ector to determine what was said by Mrs. Miller-Brown and/ or Mr. Varner. Instead, Tom Jones sought to lower journalism standards by publishing misleading and unsubstantiated accounts with the intended objective of preying on the public’s insatiable appetite for the sensational.

“It was Tom Jones who conveniently failed to investigate to know that it was Mrs. Miller-Brown who unilaterally informed the school system of her arrest. She also informed all of her leadership staff of her arrest and the circumstances of the arrest. Finally, she met with students to inform them of her arrest and used her misfortune as a teachable moment. Tom Jones, however, failed to mention these facts because he was not interested in presenting hard facts. Tom Jones could have easily determined that Mr. Varner was not credible by simply speaking to Ms. Arlecia Battle. Mr. Varner admitted to Ms. Battle that he used school property to disseminate the defamatory remarks that Mrs. Miller-Brown was a “Stoner. DUI.” Ms. Battle could have confirmed that neither Mr. Varner nor his mother contended that Mrs. Miller-Brown threatened to have Mr. Varner arrested or suspended for disseminating her photo.”

Now tgt’s response:

“Lots of good information, but there are at least a couple of obvious issues still:

1. Threat of arrest:Present in her office, in addition to Mr. Varner were Mr. Tommy Ector, athletic director, who also has administrative responsibilities and the School’s Resource Officer, Deputy Edwards.’

“Why was a police officer present? That itself, is a threat of police action.”

‘She advised him further that she was hurt by the mean spirit of his false Instagram and that he could be sued for defamation of character.’

“That’s a passive aggressive threat of legal action with a police officer present.Further, did you at any point reference this present police officer? Did the officer say anything like “this wasn’t criminal” or “I can let him go this time”? Did you ever ask the officer a question or suggest something to him that he rebuffed? For instance: “What are we going to do about this, Deputy E?” — “I think you’re going to have to punish him.”

“2. Defamation law issues:She advised him further that she was hurt by the mean spirit of his false Instagram and that he could be sued for defamation of character.’

“I am not a lawyer, but this looks very much like a spurious threat. You’re a public official, so you’d have to cross a very high hurdle to prove defamation. That you knew this was done on a dare and the student thought it was true…you’re cooked. Also, you were hurt by the mean spirit of the picture? Saying this before the punishment suggests the punishment was based on your being hurt. Oops”.

“2. Assumption of motives: ‘Tom Jones sought to lower journalism standards… because [Jones] was not interested in presenting hard facts.’

“You don’t have evidence for Jones’ motives. These statements make me doubt your “facts” pretty strongly.”

“3. Random attack on Jones: It was Tom Jones who conveniently failed to investigate to know that it was Mrs. Miller-Brown who unilaterally informed the school system of her arrest.’

“Jones’ story was about the actions against the student, not the arrest. This information is spurious.”

“4. Lack of logic: ‘Ms. Battle could have confirmed that neither Mr. Varner nor his mother contended that Mrs. Miller-Brown threatened to have Mr. Varner arrested or suspended for disseminating her photo.’

“This doesn’t make sense at all. Clearly, they did contend such to the reporter. That they didn’t contend such in front of Ms. Battle doesn’t mean they don’t contend such.”

“5. The still unexplained problem: ‘In addition, both Mr. Ector and Deputy Edwards confirm that Mrs. Miller-Brown never threatened to suspend Mr. Varner for posting her booking photograph.’

‘Following his admissions, Mrs. Miller-Brown telephoned Mr. Varner’s mother, Ms. Nakesha Thomas. Ms. Thomas was advised of her son’s conduct and improper use of school property during instructional hours. Ms. Thomas was further advised that her son was being suspended for four (4) days based on his improper conduct. Both Mr. Ector and Deputy Edwards, along with Mr. Varner, were present when the telephone call was made to Ms. Thomas.’

“So… he wasn’t suspended for posting the booking photo. He was suspended for posting the booking photo using school resources and accidentally misinforming about the principal. Four day suspension for a use of Instagram and a rumor. The first offense is maybe detention worthy. The second? Correction on what occurred; nothing more. If a student had posted an Instagram picture of a teacher next to a whale with the caption: “Saves Whales” (when the teacher was actually whaling) during school instructional time, would that student be suspended for 4 days? No chance.”

95 thoughts on “Comments Of The Day: “Clash of the Ethics Dunces: The Web-shaming Student and the Angry Principal”

  1. Sorry, tgt. I think you’re nit-picking. Give the principal a break. I think having a cop and a coach in the room was what the little twerp needed. Let’s try to refrain from putting a halo around the perpetrators in these episodes.

      • Are there any teachers out there? I suspect there’s an Officer Friendly or five in every contemporary high school. Intimidation? Give me a break. Wasn’t the cop there as a reliable witness who’s testified in court fairly regularly? Isn’t being in the principal’s office intimidation? Should the principal have adjourned the conference to an episode of Oprah or Dr. Phil? Maybe principals should not meet with a student until the ACLU has been contacted and a lawyer has been called. Maybe this kid should have been Mirandized. Then he could have been emboldened so that when he posted a picture of himself licking a bunch of taco shells down to the Taco Bell, he’d have a lawyer’s number on his iphone when Taco Bell had the audacity to try to suspend him or, gasp, fire him, without calling his Mommy and the local TV news. Sheesh.

        • You know, that was my first thought, Other Bill.

          Then I thought about it.

          To a kid, the police officer _is_ intimidating. The adult’s rationale for his inclusion is almost irrelevant. It’s a predictable consequence of the action, and as such the principle is accountable for it. QED.

          • Quo est demonstrata? You lost me there. What’s wrong with this juvenile delinquent being intimidated by a principal, a HS athletic director (likely a former jock and fairly large) and a police officer who’s on permanent assignment to represent the law in the sometimes lawless world of an modern day public high school?

            • I probably shouldn’t keep trying to find some consistency in Jack’s posts, but if you’re going to expect better employees at Taco Bell, you’re going to have to give high school teachers and administrators a little, or a lot, more slack. Frankly, I think this principal should be made an ethics hero. You want to make her job even more like tip-toeing through a minefield at night? If it had been a private or parochial school, the kid would have been expelled that afternoon, if for no reason other than the total lack of grammar in his smarmy little instagram. Whatever the heck an instagram is.

              • Huh? How do you see any comparison at all? A student’s off campus communications are none of the school’s business, parochial, private or public. If he wants to say his teacher is a creep, he can. The dispute with the principle was personal, not official, and she needed to handle it personally….with parents. The Mad Licker, on the other hand, is acting ON BEHALF OF HIS EMPLOYER when he puts out a photo of him adulterating food, and on the premises. The workplace and a school are completely different settings; the obligations and limitations on students are completely different from the limitations on employees. Denigrating one’s employer on line to the detriment of the business is a firing offense. Published opinions about one’s teachers, fellow students and administrators are off-campus, personal activities and are beyond the proper reach of school discipline.

                And I don’t appreciate the slur about consistency. If you want to make a specific case, make it—the general accusation of inconsistency is a knock on my integrity. I frequently check my posts against each other. I’m sometime surprised at how consistent they are, since my positions continue to evolve. The taco incident and this one, however, would never be compared, because there is no basis for comparison.

                • What’s personal about a student sliming his principal? On a HS computer during class time?

                  As to the consistency thing, maybe I used the wrong word. I’m trying to step back and take a longer view on the issues you raise. If a person condones awful behavior because the offender has some purpoted legal or ethical shield to waive around, you’re going to end up with all sorts of unintended consequences. I guess I’m looking for some perspective. I’m not attacking your integrity. I’m an however often struck by what I perceive to be ethics professional, almost Pharisaical and unassailable, tunnel vision.

                  But again, intimidation? Are you kidding me? As you would say, “Noam Chomsky? NOAM CHOMSKY?”

            • Radley Balko and Reason have shown the horribleness of police officers in schools (It leads to arrests and criminal citations for things that should be internal school matters).

              Here, specifically, the badness of the officer is the inherent threat the officer presents. The principal took issue with the claim that she tried to have the kid arrested, but it’s very easy to create this appearance if you have an officer present when you’re disciplining someone.

            • Don’t wanna be the smart-a** here, but isn’t it “quod erat demonstrandum”?
              demonstrata is a present perfect passive form and not the gerundive.

      • I’m as Balko as any Radley you could hope to name, with a suspicion, distrust and general dislike of LEOs that boarders on the fanatical, and while having Deputy Sits-On-His-Thumbs reeks of thuggish authoritarianism, I am more willing to let it slide for a couple of reasons…

        a) improper use of school resources and the like are technically theft, and thus can be grounds for LEO involvement.

        b) This is a more personal reason for letting it slide – when you bring in parents to talk about how little Johnny Sonofabitch has done something wrong and is getting suspended, Mr and/or Mrs Sonofabitch can react… Poorly. As the son of a teacher who frequently “covered” for the building administrator and would have to deal with such parents, it was not uncommon for her to feel less than safe. The officer might have been there as part of SOP for dealing with parents who are being told that they need to find a way to deal with their kid being home for a few days during the week…

        • a)
          I drew doodles on most of my tests, and I was constantly losing pencils, so I’m sure at least a few of the doodles were with school provided writing instruments. Technically a misuse of resources. Calling it theft is insane. Suggesting that using a school computer for something not allow is also theft is also insane. This is exactly the kind of criminalization that Balko is against. A five year old hitting another five year old because the hittee called the hitter a “dork” is technically assault. If we called the cops for that, most of my kindergarten class would have criminal records.

          b)
          Principal, officer, coach, student. No parents in the meeting. They were called on the telephone during the meeting. The principal was clear that she has never met any parent in person. This point doesn’t apply here. (If the parent’s were present, I can see it making some sense.)

          Side note: I think we found some common ground! Cops are just people… Some are good, some are bad, but they have so much power, that you kind of have to treat all of them as if they were bad. Anything else is foolhardy. (Disclosure: I was robbed by an off duty police officer acting as a security guard for a big box store where the police officer who responded to my 911 call refused to take a report…the same day a police sniper team broke into my house. Good times.)

    • Pointing out bad behavior of person B does not imply person A is a saint. Giving a pass to person B because person A did things wrong first is absolutely horrible.

  2. Teacher went to too much trouble wasting time with juvenile and parent. Slandering a teacher with drugs or booze is serious.
    Her union should have just lawyered it up and sued.

    That is the teachable moment.

    Best way to hurt people is to punch them in their wallet. Forget police.

    • I don’t think HS principals are unionized. And let’s hear it for that! They just have to deal every day with the unionized teachers and the union bosses. This woman acted like the only adult in this town and she’s unethical? To plagiarize Dickens, “If this is ethics, ethics is a fool.”

    • And, how are they getting past the public official hurdle and the principal’s knowledge that the student believed what he wrote? Are you in favor of SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)?

      • Easily – the student did it with the intent to shame the administrator (that would be the “malice” part) and had the student done a tiny bit of digging they would have found that the charges were not what they thought they were.

        Because the administrator is not an ELECTED official, they enjoy a far greater degree of protection than a sheriff named Sullivan might.

        • I’d say a principal is a very public position. I originally wrote my comment just noting a principal’s position in the community without reference to the government.

          Shaming someone is not necessarily malice. You need intentional false information (or willfully not caring if it’s true). Doing something on a dare suggests there was no malice. Also, a minimum of digging would likely find the arrest was related to a traffic stop. Jumping to DUI, while not correct, is not particularly unreasonable. Heck, CNN and Fox both misread the Supreme Court’s decision in the ACA case. Legal stuff can be pretty baffling to the laymen.

          • Jumping to DUI, while not correct, is not particularly unreasonable.

            And yet still shows a lack of due diligence, which is a requirement to pass the hurdle put in place via Sullivan.

            And again, a principal is not a “public official”. They are a governmental employee and a private citizen, and thus entitled to the exact same protections as any other private citizen. If she had to be elected to her position, it would be one thing, but that is not the case.

            I would be interested in what you thought of the Shirley Sherrod affair with Breitbart – would she have to show malice, and would she have the same burden as you say the Principal would have to have?

            • 1) I think looking the case up and misinterpreting it would pass Sullivan, though I am still not a lawyer.

              2) People in the public eye are treated similarly to public officials. Principal is a very public position (at least, if done right).

              3) Breitbart made no attempt to get the full video. He doesn’t claim he did any checking on it.

  3. . “What’s wrong with this juvenile delinquent being intimidated by a principal, a HS athletic director (likely a former jock and fairly large) and a police officer who’s on permanent assignment to represent the law in the sometimes lawless world of an modern day public high school?”
    ***********
    It may not be 100% ethical but I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.
    Now is the time to teach this kid that his actions have a consequence.
    Not two years from now when he has progressed to armed robbery because his “mother” has taught him that when you don’t like your punishment you don’t have to take it.

    I feel for this principal.
    Hard job.

    • I feel for her.
      I still think she mishandled it. It’s not a school offense. It definitely wasn’t a criminal offense. This was bullying, and using an elephant gun against a mouse.

      • Why wasn’t it a school offense? Everything seems to say it was posted using school computers during school hours.

        • The improper use of school computers was a school offense. Posting something on instagram is not a 4 day suspension worthy offense. Clearly, he was being punished for the content of his speech, not the misuse of school equipment.

    • It may not be 100% ethical but I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

      Can someone translate this to reality for me?

      Anyway, your argument is pure rationalization. It could be applied to any horrible behavior of an adult to a child. “Yea, I beat that student with a rusty pipe for talking out of turn. So what? Now is the time to teach this kid that his actions have a consequence. Not two years from now when he has progressed to armed robbery…”

      • On a related note, I’d surmise that excessive punishment or retaliation is unlikely to prevent a child from “progressing to armed robbery.” If he’s regularly given the impression that he’s at risk of being arrested for minor wrongdoing, there’s a smaller-than-normal difference between the short-term risks associated with minor wrongdoings and criminal acts. If there’s a high risk of being arrested for insulting a teacher and for knocking over a liquor store, why not go with the one that offers the higher potential reward?

  4. It’s a huge problem in our country today, failure to take responsibility for our actions.
    A whole host of problems are not going to get any better as long as this is the status quo.

    This kid isn’t a victim.
    Of his mother, maybe.

    If I had done something like this in high school, my parents wouldn’t have been asking for a sentence reduction and then urging me on to call the media to further punish the principal (because you know that’s what it was) for doing her job.
    They would have added on additional punishment at home and made me apologize and they would have made damn sure I knew why what I did was wrong.

      • Wow. He could have been pimping out sophmore girls? Or running a ponzi scheme and the school can’t touch it? They’d have to call the cops or the Feds but they couldn’t touch him. Interesting. Now, if he’d run afoul of the bullying rules, he’d have been a dead duck, of course. Wait, maybe he was bullying the principal! Eureka!

        • Why would you or anyone think otherwise? Who gave the school the right to monitor and punish out of school conduct? That’s the job of parents, the community and law enforcement, not teachers, not school administrators. Search for “Facebook” on the blog. We started arguing about this back in 2011.

          • Whew. Good thing for all concerned I got out of teaching in 1978. Give me the Redneck of the Day award for my inability to adapt to modern times.

          • Does this mean that, with respect to the school’s right to punish, selling drugs on craigslist is the same thing as just going on facebook, because its still non-school related conduct? So the school should give the same punishment for both and rely on society and parents to take care of the rest?

      • Did the student use school technology to carry out his non-school online activities? Or did he use his personal iphone etc. to carry out his non-school online activities? If the student used his own technology then I believe the most that can be said for this student in regards to that specific conduct is that he was “goofing off” while at school and the behavior should be dealt with as such. However, I could be wrong but I seem to remember that he admitted to using the school’s technology in at least part of this escapade. Maybe it shouldn’t be but that is a whole different ballgame within schools. Most schools which I am familiar with have an “Acceptable Use Policy for School Technology” which the student and student’s parents must sign before the student is permitted to use any school technology. Under any acceptable use policy I have seen, this particular student’s conduct becomes more than just “goofing off” while at school. The conduct now rises to the level of a nefarious “banned” online activity while at school with a list of assorted consequences and punishments. Therefore, schools have upped the ante on the exact type of behavior shown by this student when it comes to use of the SCHOOL’S technology when goofing off.

          • I agree with you. I don’t think that using the school’s technology to post this instagram warrants even a one day. Suspensions are the fall back disciplinary measure by too many administrators who can’t think of better ways to handle a situation. Im still not sure what happened in this particular situation. At one point, I was under the assumption that the student became hostile/aggressive/belligerent when speaking with the administrator.

            • The principal’s statement doesn’t accuse the student of becoming hostile, aggressive, or belligerent. Whether he was any of those things or not, the principal isn’t citing them as reason for the suspension. As such, it seems irrelevant.

  5. You know, it may have been a fine line between what she did and bullying.
    But maybe that is what it takes to get through to these kids…a good scare.
    It’s one thing to be threatened with arrest, another to think for a minute that you are actually going to get it.

    • No wonder I felt like I’d stepped into a Franz Kafka novel whenever I found myself in a legal ethics seminar.

        • For applying a punishment based on conduct? Yes, but you still need to justify the punishment itself. “He deserved it” isn’t a valid justification if I punch you in the face for asking a stupid equivocating question. See how that doesn’t work?

          • I think it does work, you would just have a hard time showing that I did, in fact, deserve it. We justify the death penalty, or life in prison, by saying the person’s conduct deserved that penalty. Finlay was saying that,essentially, although the punishment may have constituted bullying, that the kid’s conduct made him deserve it. I disagree that the punishment fit the crime, and I do agree with you that it shows the content of the picture was being punished. I disagree, however, that it was unreasonable to punish the kid for the posting of the picture).

            You and Jack seem to agree on this topic, but I am still trying to figure out exactly why you think the teacher overstepped. Is it because she punished the kid for the picture, or because the picture was posted online and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the school? Would it have been okay for the kid to take the picture, print out 500 copies and distribute it to every student in the school, or would that have justified the punishment? If that is not okay, because it would cause a huge disruption and undermine the principal, does that mean that in order to escape the rules of the school all a kid has to do is go to the computer lab and cause whatever mischief he has in mind over the internet?

            • The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The crime is using Instagram on a school computer during school hours and being wrong about a negative thing about the principal. The second part isn’t a crime at all. The kid can be punished for going on Instagram, but what’s the penalty for that? Detention? Loss of computer access? Getting called out in front of the class? There’s no mention of this being a repeat offense, and since the principal had never previously had any contact with the kid’s parent(s), I think we can assume this isn’t a kid with much of a disciplinary record.

              Would it have been okay for the kid to take the picture, print out 500 copies and distribute it to every student in the school, or would that have justified the punishment?

              Distributing 500 copies during school is only punishable if other kids are punished for distributing things during school. The improper usage of the computer lab still deserves some minor punishment.

              If that is not okay, because it would cause a huge disruption and undermine the principal, does that mean that in order to escape the rules of the school all a kid has to do is go to the computer lab and cause whatever mischief he has in mind over the internet?

              Undermining the principal with truth should never be punished. If the principal can be legitimately undermined, they shouldn’t be the principal.

              Despite your question being dependent on a previous answer I didn’t provide, I think this question is interesting. Is the student sending things to places other students are supposed to be accessing during the school day? If not, (like instagram), there’s no question. If so (like say, spamming student’s school email addresses), then it only matters if it would have been punishable if he’d done it home sick. Sending porn to pop up on student’s accounts when they log in? That’s possibly punishable. Sending a mugshot of the principal? No.

    • You may be correct. I don’t know. However, I do know that teachers and administrators are not trained in providing “good scares” to students. Even when I went back to school to earn a masters to become an administrator, there were no classes offered on how to effectively scare a student.

  6. Woohoo! I haven’t had a COTD in forever.

    That said, can you fix the formatting?
    * There was an italicized citation in my post that now looks like it’s my words. * There was a spot where I quoted two separate things and took care to keep them separate, but they look like one line now.
    * Various paragraph delineations were removed.

    I think it makes it considerably harder to read.

  7. I’ve got a solution. Let’s hire a few programmers to put all K through 12 curricula into an on-line, do it yourself format. Bill Gates can give every kid in the country a computer. All education will henceforth be done on line. All grading will be done automatically by the computer programs. No more bothersome teachers or administrators abusing the students. No more bricks and mortar. No more questionable socialization or opportunities for bullying. No teachers to underappreciate and improperly grade the children. Why should the taxpayers foot the bill for warehousing people’s children anyway? We won’t have ethical or unethical teachers. We won’t have teachers at all. If the schools aren’t supposed to socialize kids, let’s get rid of schools and educate the kids on content efficiently and economically. Let’s be thoroughly modern.

    This is a serious proposal and not an illogical argument handily dismissable along the lines of “since we can’t fix everything, we shouldn’t try to fix anything.”

    • What’s the problem you’re trying to fix? Why not have competent teachers educate kids during school hours, on school grounds, and only control the conduct that relates to their educational activities in school, and have parents responsible for disciplining the students the rest of the time, until they break the law, whereupon law enforcement has a role?

      • Because you turn the teachers and administrators into soul’less, neutered automatons (sp?), mere content conveyors who have to check there humanity at the door, or maybe the parking lot. If you’re going to do that, why not go straight to on line? We have the technology.

        • Huh? Because teacher who are neither qualified nor authorized to do so can’t meddle in the raising and discipline of my kids when they are properly my responsibility, that renders them soulless, neutered automatons?

        • That is one of the great dilemmas of our time. Teachers everywhere are in a double bind. They are not only supposed to give our children a comprehensive education and serve as a role model but nowadays are also required to be a moral/ethical advisor a.k.a. parent – since many parents don’t/can’t/won’t fulfill this role anymore. Students spend the bulk of their day at school. So the teaching staff has ample opportunity to oberserve and correct behaviour.
          Should this be a teacher’s “duty”? No, but I don’t think teachers are often able to refrain from parenting some of their wayward students, especially when they are sure that there’s not parenting at home going on.
          But always lingers the danger of overstepping oneself – as was the case here.

      • At our HS, kids used to set up fights at an empty lot a block or two from school to settle things after school was let out and before sports practices started. It was a well known spot. Suppose the faculty had just let the cops show up or not show up when they knew a fight was brewing. Surely the proper jusridictional result, but it would have shown the faculty and administrators to be uncaring creeps to us kids. They could say, “That’s the police’s job. I’ve got a tee time to get to. I only get paid to care about you kids from 8;30 to 2:30. After that, you’re on your own. See you tomorrow, unless you can’t make bail.” Or maybe, “Let ’em eat cake.”

        • No, any citizen has a duty to intervene to prevent harm when that intervention consists of reporting. I’d expect the school to call me, and tipping the police off is responsible too. This discussion isn’t about the duty to warn or report, it’s about authority to discipline.

          • These types of off campus fights still go on. If a school administrator gets wind of a fight “going down” after school and off campus then the administrator should give warning to the authorities. However, the administrator should NOT discipline these students for conduct which did not happen during school hours and off campus.

            • Furthermore, it’s not that I don’t care about what happens to these students when they are off campus. I just have no legal right to punish or give consequences for their behavior off campus. However, this doesn’t preclude me from pulling a kid aside and telling the kid that I don’t think it’s in his best interest to engage in fights after school. In many cases, parents do appreciate a phone call and are pleased that an administrator took the time to keep them informed. Now, the parents of the kid who got beat up off campus and now wants me to punish the kid who did it? Those situations are always “interesting”.

              • Clearly, not all teachers are power hungry megalomaniacs who don’t know how to deal with kids anymore. We just don’t normally hear about the good ones. They don’t make news.

        • Notably absent from your anecdote is any mention of what the faculty did do instead. For all we know, they might have just ignored the situation altogether and let the kids sort it out according to the law of the jungle, which I’m pretty sure would have made the faculty uncaring creeps. If that wasn’t the case, did they drop by that spot on the way home from work and disperse the crowd, or did they just stake out the spot, collect the names of students who were present, and issue suspensions the next day? One of those things would be wrong because it would be an overreach of their authority as teachers. I’m pretty sure the kids would see it as the work of uncaring creeps, also. But the other option would be fine because it would be in keeping with their responsibilities as human beings.

          Your characterization of the alternative just leaps right over the topic of abuse of authority and tries to turn this into an issue of faculty being constrained from caring about children. Are you deliberately applying a red herring, or do you really think that it’s impossible for a teacher or principal to discipline students without being given limitless power to punish students according to their personal whims, and for anything the student does in any aspect of his life? How else could you possibly read “You can’t threaten to have a student arrested for insulting you online,” as “You can’t do anything to personally intercede in a student’s life”?

    • Problems with your solution:
      * Instead of us fighting zero deviation from rules, you want to enforce such.
      * Nobody to keep kids on task
      * One-size fits all learning system is, again, what we complain about from teachers.
      * Schools ARE supposed to socialize kids.

      Actual solution: don’t pretend principals should be above reproach when it comes to their response to bad student behavior.

      • Problems with your solution:
        * Instead of us fighting zero deviation from rules, you want to enforce such. No, just eliminate the situation giving rise to rules having to be applied.
        * Nobody to keep kids on task So what? The parents can do that.
        * One-size fits all learning system is, again, what we complain about from teachers. Well, you can’t have your cake and eat your cake unless you bake yourself another cake. The parents can go on line with the kids and personalize to their hearts’ content.
        * Schools ARE supposed to socialize kids. It sure doesn’t sound like it from the comments. Everything non-school if off limits. Leave it to the police and the “community.” Schools are supposed to educate.

        Actual solution: don’t pretend principals should be above reproach when it comes to their response to bad student behavior. We disagree as to what a principal should do in this situation. Many people would. Your narrow approach guts the principal’s authority and ham-strings her. So take her out of the equation.

        • CORRECTION: “Actual solution: don’t pretend principals should be above reproach when it comes to their response to bad student behavior….when that behavior occurs in the school setting or reasonably related to school activities”:

          Student writing pro-gun sentiments on Facebook? None of the school’s business.
          Student writing means things about a fellow student on his blog? NOTSB.
          Student being rude to a grocer, dissing a cop, throwing as snowball at an old lady? Ditto.
          Jay-walking, shop-lifting, animal abuse, sexual harassment etc off school grounds? Same.

          Stop making teachers parents. They’re even worse at it than the real parents are.

        • 1. If computers do all the work, there will still be rules, and there will be no way to deviate from them. If there are no rules, then there’s no system.

          2. So, you believe that only one parent can work? What about single parents? This isn’t workable.

          3. I don’t think you understand computers.

          4. Schools socialize kids while they’re in school. They don’t socialize them while they’re out of school. That isn’t a particularly tough distinction to understand.

          5. My approach is that suspending a student for using instagram is excessive and that suspending a student for passing on false information about the principal is also ridiculous. My approach is to not bring in law enforcement for simply breaking a school rule. This isn’t hamstring the principal or gutting her authority. It’s having a sense of proportion and recognizing that non-school rule following isn’t criminal.

  8. Boy, this pushes some buttons in me. As a jr hs teacher, I sent an email to my principal using something I copied and pasted on wikipedia regarding the gay innuendo in the “YMCA” song. We teachers had been asked to dance to the song during a pep rally, and I was fed up with students cherry picking comments I made in order to get revenge after they were disciplined or their grades were low. It seemed I was guilty by accusation, while the admin let all kinds of behavior that was over the line pass. So I pasted this and sent it. The principal replied with a thank you email and later asked me to come to a meeting to discuss something else. I arrived at the meeting and the asst superintendent and other big wigs were there. She accused me of sexual harassment for sending the email, saying I broke the schools contract by sending sexually explicit info on district property. At another point, she was so controlling and heavy handed that she told me I was to have no contact with a parent who was filing a complaint against her. The hypocrisy in her standards was evident as I was routinely pilloried whenever some liar accused me.

    On the other hand, I can relate to this principals concerns re/ bad press. the rumor mill gets things going and takes on a life of its own. I wouldnt be surprised if she had endured something like this in the past and decided to use “superior firepower” to nip it in the bud.

    • I suppose I have been fortunate that as a teacher and administrator I have never been the source of ongoing gossip or rumors. I’m probably just too boring. However, I do know that junior high and high school students are still working on being responsible, making wise decisions and distinguishing the times and situations when it’s best to say nothing at all rather than perpetuate misinformation or gossip about others students, teacher and administrators. As any educator or parent knows, kids say some of the craziest things. Kids can say some of the most misleading things and yes, kids lie for various reasons. In many cases, they lie because they don’t want to get caught for the previous mistake they made which just hasn’t been discovered yet. Kids make some really bad decisions and they do some of the goofiest things imaginable. Educators cannot take these things personally. I can’t condone an administrator using “superior firepower” to retaliate against a kid for doing what kids do because she chose to take it personally or because it has happened before. However, I’m still not sure what the truth is in this specific case. Sadly, I’m realizing more and more that we can’t believe what is reported in a journalistic venue and the principal is limited in what she can legally say pertaining to this incident.

  9. Is there more than one way to read the comments on this board or a way to just read only the comments that are new since your last visit?
    I’m not complaining, I love this board, but I seem to miss a post now and then.
    Esp. on older topics.

  10. “Did the student use school technology to carry out his non-school online activities? Or did he use his personal iphone etc. to carry out his non-school online activities? ”
    ***************
    I read three different news sources and each one said a different thing, sorry to say.

  11. Click the box that says “notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.” You can read them from your inbox in the order that they’re posted.
    ********
    Thank you, Edward.

  12. “Why was a police officer present? That itself, is a threat of police action.”
    Except that it isnt. “A cop was there” is not the same thing as “She threatened to arrest me!” Interpreting it that way is an appeal to people’s mistrust of authority and speculation of intent.

    Defamation law issues seemed pretty legit. Though I question whether or not he thought it was true (for reasons more thoroughly explored below).

    “These statements make me doubt your “facts” pretty strongly.”
    How so? She doesnt like the reporter so everything else must be pure biased lies? That seems a pretty big jump. There are two possibilities; she’s either an idiot painting a massive target on herself by outright lying OR shes recounting factual events. I doubt someone would offer a lie so full of easily investigated witnesses, third parties, and paper trails. Her emotional bias is relevant, it just doesn’t overcome the likelihood of her story being true.

    “Jones’ story was about the actions against the student, not the arrest. This information is spurious.”
    Not really. She’s listing the parties that knew of her arrest, including the kids of her school, to establish that the student body was in fact informed of her arrest and its nature. The point of which is to diminish the credibility of the claim that the boy believed his account to be true. If Tom Jones didn’t report this then he was in fact being negligent in his duties, and it would further support the idea that she suffered at the hands of an irresponsible journalist. Mentioning that she reported it to her superiors isn’t necessary for the story, but its not inappropriate either.

    “Lack of logic”
    When you pull the sentence out of its context (which is to say the idea’s presented in the sentences that precede it) it doesnt make sense. But if we include the context it does.

    “Ms. Battle could have confirmed [to Tom Jones] that neither Mr. Varner nor his mother contended [during the schools administrative process] that Mrs. Miller-Brown threatened to have Mr. Varner arrested or suspended for disseminating her photo.”

    This point of which is not to say that they didn’t contend at all, but rather failing to contend it to the school during the administrative process makes their claim suspect, and likewise Tom Jones failure to investigate this disparity is further support for her claim of journalistic incompetence. To which I agree. The parents certainly had the time, opportunity, and (if it occurred as they claim) reason to complain to the school. But they didnt. So why? Unless of course they are exaggerating their claim, after the fact, for appeal to the media and Jones bought it, hook line and sinker.

    “The Unexplained Problem”
    The Unexplained Problem seems to be questioning the appropriateness of the length of the suspension? Four full days initially, then reduced to two full days, and two in school. Either way it seems appropriate. No matter how you cut it, the student acted inappropriately towards school administration during school hours while using school equipment. Thats three pretty reasonable strikes.

    • Police officer present

      I stand by my statement that there’s an inherent threat of police action. I also explained how basic banter would reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to arrest someone. Your complaint seems like your pulling my comment out of context.

      Doubt of facts

      I didn’t say the principal’s comments were lies. I said that I can’t trust them. Since she inserted so much obvious opinion around the “facts” about the reporter, she has shown that she can’t be trusted to report what occurred straightly. Maybe everything else was exactly right, but I’d be a fool to believe it on her word.

      Jones’ story
      She’s listing the parties that knew of her arrest, including the kids of her school, to establish that the student body was in fact informed of her arrest and its nature. The point of which is to diminish the credibility of the claim that the boy believed his account to be true.

      According to the Principal’s statement, the student body wasn’t informed until after this incident (Incident on May 6th. Talking to students on May 8th). Your point here has no merit. (Also, her complaint was that it wasn’t reported that she told the school district. Telling the school district is not the same as telling the kids.)

      lack of logic
      This point of which is not to say that they didn’t contend at all, but rather failing to contend it to the school during the administrative process makes their claim suspect

      I could almost agree to this…but that’s not what was written in the carefully crafted legal statement. On the other hand, there are so many problems with the statement, one more bit of incompetence on the lawyer’s part isn’t out of the question.

      The parents certainly had the time, opportunity, and (if it occurred as they claim) reason to complain to the school. But they didnt. So why?

      Lot’s of possibilities:
      * The student might not have mentioned it to his parents at first.
      * The mother might not have thought there was any leverage there.
      * The mother might have thought that complaining about that would cause her child to be arrested.
      * The mother might not have believed her son that that occurred. It’s an odd event, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. Heck, I had a teacher who didn’t like the answers supplied for a multiple choice textbook worksheet, so she picked different correct answers…for a test. Who’d believe that would occur? (side note, the class didn’t know that occurred. We were just up in arms that clearly correct answers were marked wrong. It only came to light because I switched to a different class…where the teacher gave the worksheet with answer key as a study guide.)

      Unexplained problem

      At best, I see only two strikes, and one of those suggests some pretty bad things. First, Being in school isn’t a strike and acting inappropriately towards the administration outside of school isn’t a strike. Therefore, acting inappropriately in school is only 1 strike. Second, your inappropriate act is also just spreading information about the administration that is believed to be true. If the teacher had actually been arrested for DUI, would it have still been an inappropriate action? If no, then you’re inconsistent. If yes, then you’re suggesting the school has the ability to censor negative true information. Is there something I’m missing?

  13. Let’s not even discuss the fact that she called in sick while in jail. Is that not considered misuse of “sick” leave. Why would the school district not address that issue. Furthermore, Mr. Ector is a PE teacher why was he performing “administrative duties”? Who was covering his classes during this time? All of this is inappropriate and disheartning

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