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News Story
Updated: 05/09/2013 08:01:26AM

Discipline is a school responsibility

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Forty years ago, when citizens band radio was all the rage, it was said that CB radio had given millions of people with nothing to say a forum on which to say it.

Gimme a big 10-4 on that, Good Buddy? Today, that forum has been largely replaced by the Internet, and more specifically, by social media. Anybody can put anything on the Web, and because it’s in writing, it somehow acquires unwarranted credibility.

For example, in the past week, we have received six alarmist posts declaring that the armed forces were going to start court martialing members for discussing their religious faith.

It was absurd on the face of it, but because it was posted on the Internet, and then forwarded a few million times, it took on the mantra of truth.

Polk County schools have come under the same spell in the past week over a story about a junior at Bartow High School who is accused of setting off a small explosive device on campus.

As the Polk County Schools Code of Conduct requires, she faces expulsion from school, as well as criminal charges.

Police said she took “a plastic bottle” to school, filled it with a couple of common household products widely known by kids to produce an explosion, and the device exploded. (This newspaper has chosen not to publicize the ingredients, though countless other sources have done so.) Dozens of “social media” sites have picked up the story.

One declared that the student was arrested only because she is black.

Uh . . . somebody didn’t get the memo. This is the 21st Century, and we have a black president, and minorities on virtually every elected body in the land. The days of knee-jerk accusations of racism are as out of date as well . . . CB radio.

That “plastic bottle” in first reports has been downsized to “a small plastic bottle” and then to a “tiny plastic bottle” by social commentators.

Many have characterized this event as a “science experiment” or a “science project,” giving the impression that a teacher had assigned the student to set off an explosive device on the school campus. This fiction finally reached such proportions that the school principal went on record denying it.

There have been dire predictions that the student’s future is ruined . . . not because of her actions, but because of her arrest for those actions. If every kid with a disciplinary record faced a dismal future, there would be a whole lot more of us in trouble for life.

At latest count, some 172,000 Internet users have signed on-line petitions opposing expulsion or prosecution.

We think that Ron Pritchard, principal of BHS and a witness to the incident, said it well: “She’s a good kid who just did something stupid. She’s young, and like many young people, she made a poor choice.”

We have no doubt that he is 100 percent correct.

The discipline relates to the act, not the person.

Polk County has 163 school sites and centers and 94,000 students. It also has a Code of Conduct that spells out consequences for various violations.

Note that it is called a Code of Conduct, not a List of Suggestions, or Standards of Polite Comportment.

That said, we often have expressed concern over the “one size fits all” approach to discipline in large institutions, including school systems, and believe there is room for more consideration of issues like both intent and results of misconduct.

But with 94,000 students, it may be a little unrealistic to differentiate between degrees of misconduct when it comes to setting off explosives on a school campus.

For the record, from what we have been able to determine, we think this student is deserving of something less than maximum discipline by both the school system and the courts.

However — and the important stuff always comes after “however” — we recognize that school principals, school boards, and school superintendents are responsible for maintaining safety and discipline on school campuses.

These matters cannot be left to the judgment of social media contributors, petition signers, or even (gasp!) the press.

We expect the school system to keep our campuses safe, and we have no wish to micromanage how they do it.


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