Monday, November 07, 2005

Zero Tolerance is a Substitute for Brains

Rachel KCAL Ch 9 11-5-05

Rachel's Car Supporting Football Players

…we are obliged to make choices without being able to foresee all their consequences, which we then must live with. Movie Critic Richard Schickel quoting Director Elia Kazan, Los Angeles Times, 11/5/05

Spurious statements to the press, exaggeration by the media, rumor mongering, clandestine death threats, petty issues blown out of proportion, hearsay stories of vindictive recrimination, forays into sordid romantic liaisons, invasion of privacy, authority with no direction, courts meddling in legislation, --

This is

A) Bush White House and the scandal-ridden republican regime?

B) Two star players on Orange County, California’s Tesoro High School football team and the Capistrano Unified School District?

Answer: B

My wife’s cousin, Rachel, is married to Reed, who coaches the Tesoro High School football team. Reed is a remarkable young man whose natural talent to inspire the students he coaches has led them to consistent victories. The kids are also an admirable group of above-average students and as a unit—coach and players—could act as a role model for sportsmanship on and off the field.

Reed, a former NFL player himself, and a figure of substantial physical proportion to match his spirit, recently was accosted verbally by the misguided parent of one of his players during a weekend football game. The threatening abuse, regarding when and whether the boy should be put in the game, got so out of hand that Reed asked the school principal for a meeting with the parent to put an end to the issue.

At the meeting, Principal Dan Burch suggested to Reed that such verbiage and threats “go with the territory” of coaching high school football. The parent was suspended for one game and his $1200 contribution to the football fund was returned to him.

Punishment indeed.

That Tesoro High School football story did not get press coverage. The next one did.

Fast forward several weeks, to a couple of weeks ago:

Two south Orange County students could face expulsion from Tesoro High School after journal entries they had written were reported by a teacher to contain violent and obscene content.

The students, both seniors on the school's football team, wrote assignments for an English class in which they fantasized about the death of their teacher, said Mike Feyk, a teacher’s union representative at the school.

"They were basically plotting her murder in graphic fashion. One(entry) said he'd like to see everyone in the classroom dead; another had graphic sexual references to other girls in the class," he said.--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/2/05

The press report is one point of view. Another angle has the virtue of having Cousin Rachel’s insider perception to help:

1. The “two students” facing expulsion maintain top grade-point averages, are the leaders of the fore-mentioned Tesoro High football team, and are considered throughout the school as being of the highest character.

"They realize they used bad judgment," said Matt Sciacqua, a close family friend of one of the boys and the father of a Tesoro student. "We don't feel it was anything worth being expelled for; the sheriff's department didn't feel it was dangerous to the teacher."--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/2/05

Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s department, has said on TV interviews that the boys, and what they wrote, pose no problem for anyone.

2. The press reports have not stated whether Mike Feyk has actually seen the journals, or whether he is repeating what he was told by the school administration. No one outside the school administration has been given access to the actual written journals.

3. The students in the class claim the teacher told them the journals were to be written as an exercise, and would never be collected or read by anyone.

Petra Law, a family friend of one of the boys, said the students were only joking around and did not believe the journal entries would be read.

"I think it was a total joke, like them reading each other's (journals)and laughing," said Law, whose daughter was in Di Somma's class last year. "They were told the journals were personal and private and she would not read them. They were given freedom of expression. ... It's unfortunate, it's unfair."--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/3/05

About two weeks ago, teacher Alyssa Di Somma collected journals from her fourth-period English class. Feyk said journal entries written by the two boys frightened her with what she perceived as threats. Feyk said Di Somma gave him permission to talk to reporters, but declined to comment herself.--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/2/05

The speculation in the media this week about the content of the journals was reported on several TV news outlets: KABC Channel 7, KCBS channel 2, and KCAL Channel 9. Last Saturday night, at the latest Tesoro High football game, Channel 9 interviewed a mother of a member of the opposing team at the football game, who said it was better to discipline the youths since you never know if they’re kidding or not—"Columbine" type of thing, you know.

Then the camera turned on Cousin Rachel, who said journals were supposed to be private so this was a matter of invasion of privacy.

In the report on Channel 9, neither of these interviewees was identified—they might as well have been talking heads in a crowd. Rachel’s name was listed while she spoke, but it was misspelled, and she was not identified as Coach Reed’s wife anyway.

Here is what one former Tesoro High student wrote as part of an on line chat-room give-and-take:

“the real story about this whole mess also involves sam smith. apparantley, in their english class the teacher has them keep personal journals that are for them and are never going to be read by anybody. every so often they have to turn them in to the teacher so she can verify that they are doing what they're supposed to be doing. the two of them wrote a rap song between themselves about killing the teacher. she got wind of this and they are both expelled. it was originally going to be a 5 day deal, but now the principal is going for a full expulsion. regardless of what happens, they will most likely not be able to go back to football. it's really hard to think that they both did this with what the futures they could have, especially scott. i played with both of these guys in high school and they are great athletes. it's just a shame how the decisions they made ulitmately effected them forever. being an alumni and former player for tesoro, i still talk to the team and this is what i've heard so far.”

That doesn’t clarify everything for ya?

In case you’re wondering how much the media reports helped to fan the flame of rumors, Rachel’s cousin works in a pizza parlor and several of his friend came in earlier this week to tell him the buzz they heard—that the students who wrote the journals were threatening to bomb the school, and that there had been helicopters over Tesoro HS.

There were no helicopters and no threats. Police were called to the school the day the teacher turned the journals over to the principal.

The two students were suspended pending a school district hearing on their expulsion. Zero tolerance policy subsequent to 9/11 dictates that school districts take threats very seriously. The expulsion hearings take place on the last Monday of every month, which in this case was October 31. Halloween is a school holiday—in California the school districts would rather ignore the Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes, which is now also a no-no in our post 9/11-Columbine fear-of-terrorism society.

So the two students will have to stay out of school an additional month to wait for their next hearing date hearing. They are missing so much school that graduating this year is in jeopardy, as well as are scholarships that both students were awarded for college.

Think this kind of threat-perception case is rare and isolated? Here’s what the police say:

Sgt. Brad Virgoe heads the School Mobile Assessment Resource Team, a unit in the Orange County Sheriff's Department that investigates threats of school violence. The team was formed in 2001 and was planned in the wake of the Columbine High shootings in 1999.

"This is our fourth school year, and we've responded to 200 or 300 threat assessments in a year. Typically, three to eight per day. You can have everything from a fifth-grade student who says he's going to get daddy's gun and bring it to school; kids who threaten other kids on the Internet; kids who threaten teachers. You name it, if they threatened to kill somebody or if it's school-related."

"It's very clear-cut: We look at every situation, whether or not a crime did occur. Every threat has to be considered credible until it can be assessed. That's the viewpoint we take. If a school district reports it, we'll go out and investigate it."

"We typically deal with kids, juveniles, and we're always trying to take the lowest level of (intervention). Try to work with the families, and avoid booking somebody in Juvenile Hall. If the person would benefit from just attending a diversion class where they receive counseling or anger management, we'll go that route. Try to work with the kid, with the family, and coming to the most appropriate level of intervention. It's extreme when somebody is booked."--Police Perspective, Orange County Register, 11/6/05

Now the two accused Tesoro High students have enlisted legal aid in order to protect their rights and because of the tremendous hoopla surrounding their plight.

Sam Smith’s family is said to be well-connected politically and socially in Orange County and Scott McKnight’s father is a Newport Beach Police detective. The two families hired Jeoffrey Robinson to help get their boys back on the field.

Robinson argued in court Friday that preventing the two boys from playing football would severely damage their future educational opportunities, especially for Scott McKnight, who is an all-county football player with several scholarship offers. Robinson argued that if Scott is not allowed to play football, he will lose those scholarship offers.—KCAL Ch 9 11/5/05

Even though a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the suspension, so the two could play in Saturday night’s game, the students chose not to play anyway:

Seniors Scott McKnight and Sam Smith have chosen not to play this week - California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section rules might have forced the Rancho Santa Margarita-area school to forfeit tonight's game if they had - but will begin practicing with the team to prepare for next week's game.

Capistrano Unified officials and the teachers union decried the ruling.

McKnight and Smith may rejoin the team with restrictions:

They are not allowed within 300 feet of school property and may not contact school staff other than coaches;

They are allowed to practice on school property but only if escorted through a supervised gate near the field;

They must leave playing and practice fields immediately after play concludes;

They are allowed in locker rooms only under personal supervision of a coach.--Sam Miller, Orange County Register, 11/5/05

From the teacher, to the principal, to the school administration and the school district leadership—all these people have made daily news for the media and a major local story out of what should have been a run of the mill disciplinary problem. Two boys used bad judgment and made a mistake, and now there is all hell to pay.

Some questions:

Coach Reed was threatened by a parent in front of witnesses, and the principal told him “it goes with the territory.”

Vicki Soderberg of the teacher’s union wrote to the district superintendent: …that she was concerned the students would be allowed to return to campus or rejoin the football team.

"If this occurs, CUEA would consider the safety and well-being of the teacher who was the recipient of the death threats to be in jeopardy. ... It would send a message to all students that there are no serious consequences to death threats," she wrote.--SAM MILLER, Orange County Register 11/3/05

Why isn’t coach Reed’s security and well-being as important as teacher Di Somma’s?

Why didn’t media explain more clearly that what the journals contained was never told to anyone outside the school administration, and that all the speculation about what they contained was hypothetical?

Why weren’t the students’ characters better emphasized by the press—they are “A” students with impeccable reputations?

Seems like a rush to judgment. And we haven’t touched on what prompted the teacher to call in the journals in the first place, or who might have let the teacher know there was reason to go back on her reported promise of confidentiality and ask to read them.

Post 9/11 America is full of paranoia. Your neighbors are afraid of you. Authorities from top to bottom, from the US Department of Homeland Security, to your local sheriff, have let you know that a terrorist attack is imminent, that the killer bird flu pandemic is on our doorstep, and that any immigrant to our shores could be at worst our sworn enemy, and at best a carrier of some exotic germ menace.

“Zero Tolerance” is the watchword-phrase. Never mind the glaring stupidity of announcing the “b” word in an airport—children are not allowed the “luxury” of making mistakes to learn from anymore without the possibility of removal from society: expulsion from school, time in juvenile detention facilities, or jail if they’re old enough. No more reprimands from the school administration and some sort of probation—you blow it and you’re out, regardless of your shining, blemish-free past history.

On the other hand, if you’re the school district, or for that matter, the President of the United States, you can make all the mistakes you want with impunity.

The horrendous international policy, or lack thereof, and continued bungling US military presence in Iraq, are obvious examples of unbridled, major errors.

The Capistrano Unified School District opts to build a $250 million administration building with a view, while students attend blue-ribbon schools in portable units due to lack of funds.

What New York Times reporter Judith Miller knew, and who she told, and Libby’s stonewalling resulting in obstruction-of-justice indictments, and how Bush and Cheney play into the whole scheme—all are starting to look a lot more clear-cut than the Tesoro High School Football debacle.

Meanwhile boys will be boys, and teachers will be…or as I told my teenage tall handsome son, even if your cute-if-slightly-overweight high school English teacher takes a liking to you, ignore her. Don’t fall for the flattery. Zero tolerance, you know.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments signed Anonymous will not be published.