Common sense in short supply

Published 11:18 am Saturday, May 11, 2013

This past week, when it was revealed that two Suffolk seven-year-olds were given two days’ suspension from school for pointing their pencils and pretending they were guns, the public reaction was swift and harsh. Most who have spoken out on the issue believe that not only was the punishment excessive, but that school administrators completely overreacted to behavior that required little, if any, punishment at all. I completely agree.

There are certain things in this life that seven year-old boys are just going to do. They are going to get dirty. They are going to leave their clothes on the floor until told to pick them up. They are going to complain about having to work on their spelling words instead of being allowed to watch television. And they are going to point objects and make silly and annoying noises as though they are shooting something or blowing it up.

Ask me how I know.

My son, who is now eight and probably another year or two away from quitting this incredibly annoying behavior, will pick up anything that is sitting still, point it, and makes that sound.


He does it with his dinner fork, his cereal spoon, his sister’s Barbie dolls, and if nothing else is available, his finger. And yes, he even does it with his pencil when he’s complaining about having to write his spelling words for the next day’s quiz.

I probably tell him to stop at least ten times a day, not because I’m concerned that he’s engaging in threatening or dangerous behavior, but because it gets on my last nerve.

If these boys got on their teachers last nerve that day, which they probably did, then I can completely understand the adult getting tired of it and telling them to stop. Back when many of us were kids, that kind of thing would have resulted in some time in the hall by ourselves or, at worst, a trip to the principal’s office. But suspension? Give me a break.

We live in an age when common sense seems to be in short supply, and this decision is yet further evidence of that. It reminded me of an incident that took place in a Southampton County school a couple of years ago that resulted in a similar punishment and similar public feedback. Below is an editorial The Tidewater News published in response. It seems appropriate to revisit it now.


Logic as important as rules

March 2, 2011

Rules are important. Rules are in place to protect us from the carelessness or ill intent of others.

Rules are intended to keep us safe and secure. They should be respected and enforced — especially in our schools, where the safety and well-being of our children is at stake.

For rules to be effective, there must be a negative consequence when they are broken. In simplest terms, break the law; go to jail. But we don’t write laws that we might send people to jail; we reserve the right to send offenders to jail as a deterrent to those who might consider breaking the law.

Once it is determined that a crime has been committed, the judge is obligated to hand down a punishment. The extent of the punishment — the length of prison sentence, amount of the fine to be paid, the number of hours to be spent in community service — is determined at the discretion of the judge. The judge is given latitude, within the parameters of sentencing guidelines, to choose between leniency and severity in determining punishment. Certainly, the intent of the offender, as well of the offender’s behavioral history — or lack of one — is taken into consideration when determining a suitable punishment

Last week, a student at Southampton Middle School was suspended for breaking the rules; the student opened an exterior door in violation of a new security policy. By all accounts, the student was being courteous to an adult he recognized as belonging on the premises and whose hands were full as they approached the door.

But while we expect the best of our children and wish more were raised to be thoughtful and courteous, rules are rules and the child opened a door, which was to remain closed. Some form of reprimand was appropriate.

As in the criminal justice system, common sense should always have a place at the table when determining the severity of punishment for a child who breaks the rules. It is a weak and shameful state of affairs when administrators cry out “We had no choice … the policy made us do it.”

A zero-tolerance policy is, in essence, a screen behind which some school administrators take shelter from the ramifications of poor decisions — or hide from potential controversy by making no decision at all. Perhaps if we have eliminated the need for school administrators to use judgment when handing out discipline, maybe it is time we examine the possibility of doing away with the school administrators themselves.