So It Has Come To This: Criminalizing Burps In Middle School

At  Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque, a persistent class clown, age 13, kept burping in class, followed by the usual titters from his classmates.

I was in class with one of these characters in the 8th grade, and I must admit, his burp was something: loud, long, low, and seemingly inexhaustible. He was yanked out of class, he was sent to detention, his parents were called, he was suspended, and eventually, without too much conflict, he learned to cut it out. (They never caught the guy who shouted “HOG!” in a raucous voice during study hall.) Apparently this method was beyond the abilities of the  Cleveland Middle School staff to execute.

The teacher, Ms. Mines-Hornbeck, called the police, who arrested and eventually cuffed the boy. Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes  not only suspended him for the rest of the school year, but allowed the criminal justice process to proceed, with the boy being processed for the charge of  violating a New Mexico statute, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-20-13(D), that reads…

No person shall willfully interfere with the educational process of any public or private school by committing, threatening to commit or inciting others to commit any act which would disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.

That’s right: arrest and criminal prosecution for burping in class.

None of the staff at the school, apparently, had an ethics alarm go off that induced them to point out that the year long suspension was an unethically harsh punishment, and the criminal charge was tantamount to child abuse. I remember that in the fourth grade at Parmenter School in Arlington, Mass, my friend Timmy Russell was moved to leap to his feet during a math lesson and do a ten second imitation of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” Everyone laughed, including the teacher. Then, that burst of childish energy over, she went on with the lesson, because she was a confident professional.

In New Mexico, 2016, Timmy would have broken the law. Continue reading