Category: Parenting

Mental Health Emergency Services for Teens: What to Do When Your Community Fails You

It’s been months since my last post. I don’t like to give advice. Provide information and resources, sure. But giving advice about a life and death matter — that worries me. But maybe not giving advice is equally risky, so here goes.

Say you are in a town like Huntsville, Alabama, where the hospital, in spite of being the only hospital of any size for a 100 miles, and in spite of having a separate facility for women and children, and in spite of being an aggressive investor buying up other hospitals, hasn’t a single bed for a child or teen in need of emergency psychiatric intervention. What do you do? (more…)

About a 15-year-old’s Suicide and a Principal’s Grandstanding

Usually when teenagers kill themselves, people react with incredulity. Not in the case of 15-year-old Christian Adamek of Madison, Alabama, a suburb of Huntsville, AL.

Here’s what happened, at least as much as is publicly known at this point. On September 27, Adamek streaked across the field during a high school football game. Even this much is in some dispute. I read one comment that said he had a sock on over his privates that came off when he tried climbing a fence at the end of the so-called streak. Today I read another that claims he was wearing boxer shorts, which means this was no streak at all.

It’s unlikely that the mainstream media will clear this up. Now, they have clamped their mouths shut. Such wasn’t the case while Adamek was alive, however. More on that later.

It’s not entirely clear to me whether Adamek was arrested that night. If he had been, then there would have been no reason for school “administrators [recommending] that Adamek have a hearing in the Madison County court system to determine if formal charges would be filed,” as television station WHNT reported, since such a hearing would follow an arrest whether the principal asked for one or not.

There’s always a strong police presence at football games, so if the police didn’t think what happened required an immediate response, why did Sparkman High Principal Michael Campbell take it upon himself to speak as if he intended to criminalize the act?  It has been suggested that this was all about scare tactics, but why go on camera if there was never the intention to follow through? Was this Campbell’s “prank”?

By Tuesday, Adamek was no longer in school, and his sister tweeted he was “facing expulsion.” Not suspension, mind you, but expulsion, which means permanently kicked out of his school. Since the school-leaving age in Alabama is 17, he would have ended up at some rough alternative school, I expect. True, he hadn’t yet had his expulsion hearing, but principals usually get their way.

So academic future, chance of getting into most colleges: gone. Next few years of schooling: hell.

You might think that as extreme as that course of action seems, it would have satisfied Sparkman High School’s Assistant Principals and Principal Michael Campbell’s desire for— well, what exactly? And again, Campbell may have been acting in concert with the School’s vice-principals, but he is the principal. Shielding his underlings from criticism and taking all the heat himself may seem an act of valor, but if the most vigorous instigators of this scare campaign are shielded, how does this help students? If the others in the Sparkman administration aren’t willing to come forward individually and say, hey, it wasn’t Campbell acting alone: I put the pressure on Campbell to go to the press, then do any or all of them have the integrity and character to influence students?

Did Adamek realize that his brief run down the field would end his days as an ordinary high school student? I doubt it. Streaking doesn’t appear on the list of 72 offenses (58 of which are in the top tier, level 3) in the Madison County Schools Code of Conduct. A more savvy kid might have realized that he could be charged with S11 Disorderly Conduct, or the ever-useful S58 Other Incidents (also on this level are, for comparison, S21 Homicide, S23 Kidnapping, S34 Tobacco Use and S16 Electronic Pagers. Go figure.). He probably wouldn’t have been surprised to have been beaten by the principal on Monday morning, since Madison County Schools still use corporal punishment.

But he probably wouldn’t have expected to have to worry about  S30, Sexual Offenses.

Kids, please, please, if you want to fight or streak, don’t do it at school or a school event. Do it anywhere but. Why? Because if you get in trouble at school, your principal can call in the law. If you do it elsewhere, the law is not likely to call in your principal.*

This seems like a kind of double jeopardy to me.

Adamek realized he would likely be expelled. Then Tuesday night, Principal Michael Campbell announced on the evening news that the boy “faced legal charges” and that “the incident was much more than a mere prank. ‘This situation was totally different, something not related to that at all.’”

What did that last sentence mean? Now that Campbell has shut up, we’ll never know. It seemed to me that he was trying to make a harmless, victimless crime — if in fact it was any crime at all — into something far more sinister.

The “legal complications”? Campbell mentioned “public lewdness”; another possibility would have been “indecent exposure, the latter of which is tied to Alabama’s sex offender laws.”

Now this is where Adamek’s situation really became dire. If he had beat someone senseless as a 15-year-old, and been judged delinquent, once he reached 18, he could have sought to have his juvenile record sealed. It doesn’t work that way with sexual offender status. In Alabama, the law “requires adult sex offenders to remain in the state sex offender registry for life but makes exceptions for some younger offenders.” Some youthful offenders may then not be on the register for life, but for exactly how long is vague.

And it was possible that Adamek could have faced time in the juvenile detention center. Most  (83%) in Madison County’s in 2008 committed non-violent crimes, by the way. Now, it might not be true, but anyone in America knows what is commonly believed about incarceration of males: rape is widespread, and sex offenders are considered the lowest of the low.

By Thursday Christian Adamek was dead.

To recap: we have a 15-year-old kid who it doesn’t appear was anything like streetwise or vaguely knowledgeable about the [so-called] justice system who runs down the sidelines during a football game either naked or in his boxers or somewhere in between.

His principal Michael Campbell and the administrators at Sparkman do the worst they can in the academic arena: starting expulsion proceedings. Then Campbell goes on TV to make sure that his intentions to pressure the DA’s Office to make the kid’s life a long-lasting legal hell are publicly known.

Some teenagers choose to break the law and commit violent crimes. It is hard to have much sympathy for them if they despair over the consequences. And catastrophically bad things happen to teenagers: serious illness, causing accidents, being the victims of accidents, being the victims of crime. Even for those who are at the wheel when a serious accident occurs, an accident, is after all, an accident.

Christian Adamek fell into a weird category: yes, he acted intentionally. But surely he had no clue what the fall-out would be. He engaged in a juvenile act. He was, after all, a juvenile. He was supposed to have had chances to learn about the world.

Principal Michael Campbell acted intentionally too. The similarities end there. He is an adult. He is an adult who is responsible for the education and safety of his students. He is expected to use good judgment. He is supposed to know a little bit at least about the impulsive behavior of teenagers. He might be expected to understand their ignorance of the legal system, to be able to grasp that a 15 year-old might not make the connection between streaking (or sort of streaking) at a football game and ending up on the Sex Offender Registry (how many adults would?). Surely he’d be expected not to talk to the press about a specific case at his school, knowing fully well that due to social media, Christian’s identity was widely known already and his and the mainstream’s media not naming Christian was an adherence to formality and irrelevant in practice.

I doubt that Campbell and his colleagues committed an actual “crime.” Even if they did, trust me, the Madison County AL DA wouldn’t bother with the case.  No, all Campbell did was act with such abysmally poor judgment that he made of a trivial non-event a matter of life-and-death. Literally.

Why? What could have motivated such idiocy? Well, allow me to speculate a bit here and give you some history on the man. Superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski and the Huntsville Board of Education paid $22,000 to a consultant to find them two principals. Campbell was one; he came from Fairfax, VA, a favorite stomping ground of the Colonel, and was hired to lead Johnson High, a school “labeled as ‘failing’ under state standards” at a salary of $102,596. He arrived in fall 2012 and by April 2013 had found his way to greener (or make that whiter) pastures at Sparkman, failing to raise Johnson from its failing status, and feeling, it appears, no compunction about having wasted the money City of Huntsville taxpayers spent on his recruitment. While I can’t say I blame hime for wanting to get out of the Huntsville CIty Schools, he should have looked into the situation he was getting himself into before accepting the job.

OK, so now he is lord of his new universe, and then this kid streaks a football game. Time to show all the world that there’s a new sheriff in town, a Real Man, a Tough Guy, who won’t let HIS kingdom be besmirched by some juvenile hijinks.

In a just world, Campbell would be fired and banned from ever having a position of authority over any child. If he isn’t responsible, then let him speak for himself. He had enough to say before Christian died.

I doubt he has anything to worry about. Not a thing.

____________

*Case in point and a study in comparative justice: Not far from Sparkman High, when one 15-year-old beat another senseless at his home, the Huntsville City school both attended was indifferent. Even though the perp admitted hitting his victim to a school counselor, that counselor couldn’t even bother returning  calls from the Assistant DA. Nor did his principal.
This same perp posted a picture of himself with his pants below his knees at an open air shopping center on a Saturday afternoon while on probation. The head probationary officer for juveniles in Madison County was indifferent, noting that the terms of his probation did not prohibit dropping his drawers in public, and besides, you see that kind of thing on TV all the time.
And when that perp turned 18, he could petition to have his record sealed.
In other words, if Christian Adamek had stayed home from that football game and instead slapped, head-butted, strangled and banged his girlfriend’s head against the wall multiple times, he would have been a whole lot better off  legally, his academic situation unaffected, and likely he would have been alive today.

Can Standing Silently for 65 Seconds Constitute a Threat?

Just go read this: “You Made People Uncomfortable”.

There you will learn that although citizens can comment for three minutes at a Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meeting, if they fail to use their allotted 180 seconds, standing silently for the remainder and awaiting an answer is forbidden.

 Here’s an excerpt, but really, just click through.

Thursday night I was informed by Mr. Lankford [head of Board Security] that if I wish to speak during the Citizen’s Comments section of the board meeting, I would not be allowed to stand silently waiting for an answer. I would have to speak and then sit down. The consequences of pulling this “stunt” again would mean that I would be banned from all future board meetings. Mr. Lankford went on to inform me that I had made “everyone” feel uncomfortable and that he considered my actions as a threat. He certainly hoped that I didn’t intend to threaten others.

I wonder if the First Amendment Center  would take a stand on the legality of a School Board telling a citizen that he better be babbling for the full 180 seconds allotted to him or else sit down.

They have recently reported on a case where an appeallate court ruled against a mayor who wouldn’t let a citizen speak until he first apologized to a city employee:

. . . the appellate court agreed that the city council, by allowing “audience time,” had created a designated public forum and accordingly could not regulate speech on the basis of the speech’s content.

And this is all rather interesting reading, too, regarding speaking at public meetings.

A federal district court in California invalidated a school district bylaw that prohibited people at school board meetings from criticizing school district employees. In Leventhal v. Vista Unified School District (1997), the court wrote: “It seems clear that the Bylaw’s prohibition on criticism of District employees is a content-based regulation. … It is equally clear that the District’s concerns and interests in proscribing public commentary cannot outweigh the public’s fundamental right to engage in robust public discourse on school issues.”

 Similarly, a federal district court in Virginia struck down a school board bylaw that prohibited personal attacks during public comments at meetings. (See Bach v. School Board of the City of Virginia Beach, 2001.)

Before each citizen’s comments section at Huntsville City Schools Board meeting, a little statement is read including,

We request that no one make any disparaging remarks, comments or statements pertaining to the good name and character of any individual.

It’s a good thing that they use that phrase “we request” since it seems in light of the above that they cannot require people to be nice.

But remember, in this case there is no dispute about whether the speaker’s remarks were “disparaging.” He was threatened with being “banned from all future board meetings” for saying nothing at all for 65 seconds.

Reading of my friend’s encounter at the School Board, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this classic moment of hypocrisy:

Clinton wasn’t “interrupted” by a heckler. A 71-year-old man stood up in the aisle, said not a word, and turned his back on our Secretary of State as she talked about freedom of speech. Only when he was manhandled and dragged out by two security guards did he “interrupt” to ask, “So this is America?”.

Stay tuned.

Yes, It’s the 21st Century. No, That Doesn’t Mean All Teachers Accept Left-handedness

It’s National Lefties Day. I wasn’t planning to write about left-handedness today. I wasn’t planning to write about it ever. But yesterday my daughter discovered she was left-handed.

And…you say.

And… she is nearly 15 years old.

I don’t know who I am more furious at — myself or the pre-school teacher. Why didn’t I catch this? I’ll tell you. I assumed that in the final years of the 20th century everyone knew that you don’t force a left-hander to become a right-hander. I guess I should have known better.

So my back-to-school advice to young parents in 2010: Watch your kid color before you put her in school. Take note of her preferred hand. If she shows any inclination to be a leftie, watch like a hawk that she is still using that same hand a month later. If not, give her a pencil and see how she holds it in each hand. If when using her right hand she does a weird contortionist’s grip painful even to observe, while with the left she holds the pencil in the usual way, it is past time to march down to her school and go ballistic. Your kid’s teacher is an idiot.

So how does a ninth grader discover she’s a leftie?  She goes to her second freshman art class. The class exercise is to use the hand you don’t favor to write with, then try writing with both hands at once, and then compare the output with your normal writing.

In presumably right-handed Daughter’s case, all were amazed to see that her left-handed writing was clearer than her right, and when writing with both hands at once, the words looked nearly the same.

A brilliant, curious public school art teacher (and for all but a year Daughter had always been in private schools) was intrigued and spent some time with Daughter. She noticed that Daughter did a weird grip of the pencil with her right hand, and held it naturally with her left. She asked if Daughter’s hand hurt when she wrote.

Now, a year or two ago I was flummoxed when Daughter appeared to have all the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Kids don’t get this, right? We went and got an Ace bandage or hand brace or something, more to avoid a fight on my part than for any other reason. That year she had some lengthy assignments that had to be hand-written. I considered her complaints about how her hand hurt if she had to write a lot to be either a Princess and the Pea affair or an unconvincing excuse for laziness. Maybe, I’d say, your hand wouldn’t hurt so much if you held your pencil normally.

I feel like joining the self-flagellants.

Then Brilliant Art Teacher did some exercises involving closing eyes and touching nose or something like that, probably like these,  to determine handedness. Once again, Daughter checked out as a leftie.

I know I probably shouldn’t start googling what happens when a leftie is forced into right-handedness. But of course I will.

Already I am wondering how this is going to revise the past. Like for several years when she was three, four, maybe even five, Daughter insisted on wearing her shoes on the wrong feet. I’d put them on correctly, she’d change them. She said they felt better that way. I said they couldn’t possibly and she was being contrary.

I feel really really rotten. Can’t go back, though.

But I can warn others.

Parents of young children, beware. You think you’ve imagined most of the way your child can be harmed when you send her out into the world. You are thankful that there are a few things you no longer have to fear, things like lefties being forced to become right-handed.

Think again.

Melena, Hematemesis, Hypovolemic Shock — and A Lot of Love

Gore alert: Medical terms in title refer to situations involving blood, blood, and more blood.

Were mine a glass house, what you would ordinarily see are four people: Mom, Dad, 14-year old Daughter, and 20-year old Son sitting in separate rooms, staring at separate screens. Even holidays aren’t so different; each year they come chugging along with annoying regularity — and I still can’t figure out how to get on board. Orchestrating Hallmark Moments, creating those Special Memories your family will cherish for a lifetime, all that is beyond me. No surprise then that Mother’s Day barely registers on our screens.  But I’ve something better than a lifetime’s stack of cards (and why do people give greeting cards to people they live with, anyway?): my fractured memory of this past Monday afternoon.

Last Saturday night we returned from a 3200-mile+ roadtrip out west, so Sunday I wasn’t surprised to be really tired. Monday wasn’t any better, and I had no appetite but no stomach pains, ate a banana and some soup.  I wasn’t even that surprised when I had the most horrible black diarrhea. I put this down to culinary karma — what did I expect after eating a sausage pizza at a truckstop in rural Arkansas? But Husband was concerned and called to get me a doctor’s appointment. The nurse said I needed to get to the ER, asap. I learned later that this was blood I’d passed, blood mixed with stomach acids: melena.

I resisted. I’d just have to sit there for hours. Besides, I couldn’t even get to the refrigerator and back without having to lie on the floor to rest. Looking back I see how odd it was to think that a reason not to go to the ER. I relented, but told my husband, who needs a total hip replacement, that Son would have to help me to the car.

We hadn’t reached the door when I said I needed to rest, so Husband went to get the air going in the car.

And then I started vomiting up huge black clots of blood. I wasn’t seeing what was going on at this stage, but I was hearing it. Husband called 911 for an ambulance. Dispatcher heard collie barking, said to get him secured. Rascal wouldn’t leave my side, but Daughter and Son together pulled and pushed him out to the backyard. Then both returned and as Husband talked with dispatcher the two of them followed her instructions, keeping me on my side as I continued vomiting up this foul black matter (hematemesis). They told me later I was flailing around, maybe convulsing or seizing, with my eyes wide open but my pupils not right. I certainly wasn’t seeing anything. I remember their stroking me, kissing me, telling me they loved me.

The EMTs and fire truck arrived in minutes. The kids say that the first guys in backed away, until the woman in charge came in and told them it wasn’t trauma (did they think I’d been shot?). Because of the position of our door, deck, and steps, getting a stretcher in wasn’t an option, so they had to haul me out to a gurney placed on the sidewalk. I remember being rolled into a blanket or something. And that’s it, for a while.

Although they worked on me outside, I remember nothing til I was loaded into the ambulance. My guess is I’d lost consciousness, but they started oxygen as soon as they got me out the door so by the time I was in the ambulance I was aware of talk about my blood pressure, getting needles in both arms, hearing the sirens when after 15 minutes or so I was stabilized and we got moving, and I have a few visual memories of the Head EMT and inside the vehicle. I think at some point I must have been between stages 3 and 4 of hypovolemic shock.

In the ER I soon was given two transfusions; later I was to receive two more. I remember the Head EMT telling the nurses they had a very anxious husband pacing in the waiting room who need to be allowed back as soon as possible. Then she was gone.

I became alert enough to be interested in the trauma room. There are posters on the walls telling RN 1, RN 2, RN 3 — up to 6 or 7, I think, exactly what to do and even where to stand relative to the patient’s bed. Someone cut my housedress off, just like on TV ER shows. I complained about the pain the large IV needles were causing me, about being thirsty, about needing to get the blood out of my hair. That was really gross. Even though I couldn’t move my arms I could feel that blood was stuck in my hair, and when I looked at my pillowcase, it was totally red. Not a priority, however.

I ended up having a spurting gastric ulcer repaired via endoscopy, and was home less than 48 hours after the ordeal began.

And what was going on while I was in the ER? Son was cleaning blood off the carpet and Daughter was cleaning everything else in sight.

When I came home, my collie was waiting on the deck in the 102° heat, somehow knowing I was on my way. My bed was made with fresh linens, and Daughter had imposed order on the clutter of the bedside table. She spent a good hour getting all remains of adhesive off my badly bruised arms.

Ever since I got out of the hospital and home with my family, I’ve been uncharacteristically cheerful, bouncing off the walls buoyant.

Of course.

Of Flu and Football in Tuscaloosa and Beyond

I found some encouraging information about the prevalence of H1N1 or swine flu on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa:

— FLU IN REMISSION: The flu virus circulating through the University of Alabama campus in recent weeks appears to finally be on the decline.

“It seems much, much better,” John Maxwell, director of the UA student health center, said Wednesday. “We randomly have checked some during the day just to see if we’re still seeing it. I think (Tuesday) and (Wednesday), we haven’t seen any positives. That is good news.”

Where did I find it? State news, local news, education news? Dream on. It was buried several inches deep in the Friday, Sept. 18,  on-line edition of  the sports pages of the Mobile Register.

It seems sometimes, if it weren’t for sports reporting, we’d no news at all from our Alabama campuses.

Even the NPR affiliate in Birmingham, AL, WBHM found H1N1 among college students in Alabama only worth a mention in the context of game days.   Andrew Yeager’s September 18, 2009, report,  Tide Flu, noted that

Sports Economist Andrew Zimbalist says canceling a game at a small, division three school such as Stillman is less problematic than at a division one program. There’s more at stake for big universities.

“For the schools themselves they can generate in ticket sales millions of dollars in each game. And then they have television contracts. They have television contracts that can also generate millions of dollars or the equivalent of that per game.”

Beyond that, Zimbalist points out if a season is interrupted by cancellations, it could affect perceptions of teams making it to post-season play.

“That becomes tainted if one of the contending teams misses a game or two because of a swine flu epidemic.”

What’s Stillman?

Stillman College, founded in 1876,  is a small (~1050)  four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, and is, like the main campus of the University of Alabama, located in Tuscaloosa.

When 37 of its players and several coaches had flu symptoms in the days leading up to its opening game, the College cancelled the game and the SAIC marked the game up as a  forfeit to Stillman’s opponent, Clark Atlanta.

The team’s coach, L. C. Cole,  told Tuscaloosa News sportswriter Andrew Carroll,

We had to make a decision in the best interest of our athletes. We didn’t want to do any further harm. The college did the best thing as a precaution for our team and our student body too.

This is Cole’s first year at Stillman. Responsibility and integrity: not just talk from this coach.

Meanwhile, down at the University of Florida, we have this from Florida Gators Head Coach Urban Meyer:

“It is a panic level of proportion I’ve never seen before,” Meyer said Sunday, a day after his team’s 23-13 victory over Tennessee. “You hear about, I think, Wisconsin had 40 players. Ole Miss had 20 players. My wife, with her great insight, said, ‘Do you realize the swine flu and everything is hitting the Florida campus last week.’ My gosh.. . .

“We’re trying the best we can, but it’s real,” Meyer said. “We go to the extremes. They get a separate dorm room for them. They get a separate hotel room for them. They put them right on whatever the flu stuff is. Our guys, our team doctors, they’re on it as fast as you can get on it.”

And the Gators have all now had seasonal flu shots. The Associated Press’s Mark Long reported:

The regular flu shots were the latest course of action. They came about a week after one school official predicted that as many as 40 percent of students could catch swine flu.

Uh, what exactly is the connection between those two sentences? The shots available now are the seasonal flu shots. They aren’t going to keep the Gators safe from H1N1.

The AP report goes on to note that only 3 Gators were sick with flu during last Saturday’s game against Tennessee.

[Jeff] Demps, [Jermaine] Cunningham and [Aaron] Hernandez all played against Tennessee on Saturday, but none of them seemed up to par. Demps, who had a 101-degree temperature, ran four times for 31 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez caught four passes for 26 yards. And Cunningham finished with one tackle. “They were beat up pretty good,” Meyer said.

Playing a guy in a contact sport who is running a “101-degree temperature”? That might be how they “go to the extremes” in Florida, but I’d rather have my kid playing for Coach L.C. Cole (the Stillman coach, remember?).

the “unverified crud” in the “dramatic diatribe” of an “unread elitist”

“An Independent” didn’t  care for my last post, “Obama’s Back-to-School Address: All Responsibilities and No Rights,” writing:

 DON’T tell people to treat teachers as some kind of perverse violent evil force, out to get my kids (which is what you ARE saying, whether you think so or not).

Fine, I won’t. And I didn’t. I don’t suppose it will do much good for me to say that I wasn’t writing about teachers, since “An Independent” presumes to know what I’m thinking, even if I don’t, but for the record, the word teachers appears just once in my “dramatic diatribe,” couched between parents and principals. And not that it matters, but I believe that teachers are grossly underpaid for doing perhaps the most important job going. I should know. Both my parents were public school teachers. But that’s just my opinion.

Moreover, teachers don’t make policy. Maybe they should, but they don’t: not at the school level, or the district, or the state, or the national.

What I take exception to is “An Independent’s” suggestion that my argument is riddled with “unverified crud” that I’m “using as sources.” My respondent writes,

 Throw away all those self-published pieces of crud, written by childless, barren-wombed “scholars” who have never actually TAUGHT children, and start quoting some people with REAL LIFE experience.

Are Department of Education reports and Supreme Court verdicts “self-published pieces of crud, written by childless, barren-wombed ‘scholars’ who have never actually TAUGHT children”?

That’s one way of describing them, I guess.

I’m not sure what would satisfy “An Independent” as verified crud, but here goes.

“self-published pieces of crud” aka My Sources

  • Supreme Court 1977. Ingraham vs. Wright

You can read the Supreme Court ruling Ingraham v Wright at FindLaw.

INGRAHAM v. WRIGHT, 430 U.S. 651 (1977). 430 U.S. 651. INGRAHAM ET AL. v. WRIGHT ET AL. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT. No. 75-6527. Argued November 2-3, 1976. Decided April 19, 1977

This case presents questions concerning the use of corporal punishment in public schools: First, whether the paddling of students as a means of maintaining school discipline constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and, second, to the extent that paddling is constitutionally permissible, whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires prior notice and an opportunity to be heard. . . .

Petitioners cannot prevail on either of the theories before us in this case. The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is inapplicable to school paddlings, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of procedural due process is satisfied by Florida’s preservation of common-law constraints and remedies. We therefore agree with the Court of Appeals that petitioners’ evidence affords no basis for injunctive relief, and that petitioners cannot recover damages on the basis of any Eighth Amendment or procedural due process violation.

  • Corporal punishment and students with disabilities

Visit the Department of Education, Table 9 – Incidents of Disciplinary Action for Students with Disabilities.

  • Public High School Graduation Rates by State

Visit the Department of Education, Indicator 19, Elementary/Secondary Persistence and Progress.

  • Race and corporal punishment

Department of Education press release. “Anniversary of Title VI Marks Progress and Reminds us that Every Child has the Right to an Education.” July 1, 2009

  • The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment lists its primary sources and supporters here.

A Note about Incidents of Disciplinary Action for Students with Disabilities

The US Department of Education’s website reports the numbers of special ed students receiving corporal (2006 figures [most recent]) by district  not by state, so don’t be surprised when you open the page and you see a chart where every value is 0. Once you click on a particular state, then you’ll see each district — city, county, or borough — and its reported figures.

In Alabama, for example, there are 108 systems reporting. Of those, 26 reported no use of corporal punishement on students who fall under IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], and 12 reported over 100 disabled students who at least once were subject to corporal punishment in 2006. Marshall County reported the highest number (300). Next most numerous were two other rural counties Morgan and Blount, with 215 each. That is a big gap.

For perspective, the 2006 population for Jefferson County, Alabama’s most populous, was 659,403. Marshall’s was 86,247. Jefferson had 125 incidents of corporal punishment involving special ed kids.

These are 2006 facts. Marshall vs. Jefferson county population: 86,247 vs. 659,403. Disabled kids receiving corporal punishment in Marshall vs. Jefferson counties’ public schools: 300 vs. 125.

“They live every day in fear of their students–NOT the other way around!”

“An Independent” suggests I have things backwards:

I know LOTS of teachers. They live every day in fear of their students–NOT the other way around! These days, they have to worry about MUCH more than just kids bringing frogs to school, or smoking in the bathrooms. They have to worry about guns, drugs, gangs, sexting, and offending BOTH sides of the street of political ideologues.

and tells me:

Go out into the real world. Meet lots of real people. Ask the REAL EXPERTS– the TEACHERS– what they think about abuse and discipline in schools, and start quoting REAL cases — IF you can find any!– where abuse happened. (And no, the provoked YouTube videos– with teachers defending themselves against violence, which are posted by kids who edit out the assaults on the teachers– these are NOT kids being abused, these are TEACHERS being abused!)

Sorry, but I don’t spend time over at YouTube (or MSNBC for that matter), but I thought I’d look for some crud about assaults on teachers in the 20 states with corporal punishment and in the 30 without.

Over at the US Department of Education, I found an interesting National Center for Education Statisitcs table, Percentage and number of public school teachers who reported that they were physically attacked by a student from school during the previous 12 months, by state: 1993–94, 1999–2000, and 2003–04.

In 2003-04, 120,000 US teachers reported they were physically attacked by a student from school during the previous 12 months. The number of reports from the 20 states who still allow corporal punishment was 48,500.

The proportion of states that have corporal punishment (20) is two-fifths of US states. In 2003-2004, 48,500/120,000, or roughly two-fifths of attacks against teachers occurred in these same states.

My “snotty commentary”: there is no reason to believe that teachers are safer in schools that use corporal punishment than in ones that don’t.  Nor is there any reason to believe they are less safe.

 

Obama’s Back-to-School Address: All Responsibilities and No Rights

President Obama’s speech last week to America’s students disappointed me. I wish he had given the bushleaguer Fox-frequenters something to squawk about. I wish his talk about responsibilities had included a promise to America’s minors that he would work to extend to them the same rights under the law that their parents, teachers, and principals have.

Obama used the same rhetoric for this audience as he would have if he were addressing full citizens of the US: “if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.” And while it’s hard to argue with the message “I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do,” I find it unsettling to hear kids once again being told that “Here in America, you write your own destiny” when the truth of the matter is that in 20 states, school kids of all age, for all kinds of reasons, are subject to corporal punishment.

Children, unlike adults, including convicted murderers, have no protection from “cruel and unusual punishment,” nor are they guaranteed due process, or so said the Supreme Court in its 1977 ruling on Ingraham vs. Wright, which challenged the State of Florida’s corporal punishment policies as unconstitutional, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See.

Twenty years have passed since the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that children should share in basic human rights, like protection from violence, and still the US has not ratified it, a distinction we share only with the great nation of Somalia. During his campaign, Obama said, “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land.”  His administration has at least begun thinking about the problem; in June 2009 the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said officials are looking at “when and how it might be possible to join.” But it isn’t his decision alone.

The same mouths who had to protect their precious children’s delicate ears from being bruised by Obama’s innocuous speech will fight this tooth and nail. They’ll buy into the argument of Steven Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as reported on Fox: “To the extent that an outside body. . . have a say over how children in America should be raised, educated and disciplined — that is an erosion of American sovereignty.”

They’ll fear losing the legal right to terrorize with threats of violence and to physically assault those who are smaller than they are. They’ll claim it’s a matter of religious freedom, spare the rod and spoil the child. But even the stern Calvinists of Scotland stopped beating kids in public schools 29 years ago: “Corporal punishment is prohibited in state schools and for publicly funded pupils in independent schools in Scotland under Section 48A of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”

What other countries haven’t prohibited corporal punishment in public schools? Uganda, Turkey, Myanmar, Liberia, Cuba, and other illustrious nations. See.

Is it surprising that states that hit kids the most — whether by counting the number hit at least once during the course of the year or the percentage of the student body beaten — have some of the lowest graduation rates in the nation?

Or that in the ten most violent states, in nine cases , special ed students are paddled at a higher rate than kids in the general population (and in the tenth, they are paddled at the same rate)? 

Or that disproportionately more minority students, especially blacks, are hit and hit more often? In 2006-2007, 36% of kids struck at school were black (interestingly, in 1976, the percentage of blacks hit was 29%). Look at the map of where corporal punishment is allowed in schools, and think plantation discipline.

Obama used the words responsibility or responsibilities nine times in his address to school children. The word rights appears just once,  in a list of historical achievements of the American people, suggesting that the fight for civil rights is as much a done deed as putting a man on the moon.

Mr. President, you can do better than this.

I’ve an assignment for you.

In a year’s time, return to the schoolroom TV monitors and address this question: If rights come with responsibilities, do responsibilities come with rights?

 Resources

Corporal Punishment : Legalities, Realities, & Implications. Patricia H. Hinchey. Clearing House, Jan./Feb. 2003

Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools. Alice Farmer. Human Rights Watch

Global table of corporal punishment: home, school, penal system. at http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org

Corporal Punishment by State and Race. Center for Effective Discipline.