Lacking Common Sense

Posted on Fri 06/23/2017 by

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By Tom McLaughlin ~

The young woman looked nervous as she knocked on the window of my classroom door. “Excuse me, class,” I said as I stepped out to speak. She was a former student and substituting in the next classroom.

“A boy is throwing things at other students. He won’t stop, and he refuses to go to the principal’s office. Can you help me?”

“Sure,” I said. The boy wouldn’t make eye contact when I entered the room. Every other student did though, waiting to see what would happen.

“Bobby,” I said (not his real name). “Miss Fellows told you to go to the principal’s office and now I’m telling you.” He just sat there, still not making eye contact. “Bobby,” I repeated, “Maine law say that if a student is a danger to others and refuses to leave the classroom, the teacher can use the necessary force to remove him. Now I’m telling you again to go down to the principal’s office.”

That got no response either.

“I’m going to count to three. If you’re not moving at three, I’ll move you. One, two, th…”

He got up, went out the door, and headed for the stairs. I picked up the wall phone and called down to say Bobby was on his way. “Thank you,” said Miss Fellows.

“You’re welcome,” I said, then returned to my classroom and forgot about it.

The following Monday, Jim Underwood, the principal, came into my room during my free period. I liked Jim. He was a very effective administrator. “Tell me what happened with Bobby,” he said, because he’d been out of town when I dealt with the incident and had appointed another teacher as acting principal. I filled him in.

“If you had removed him,” Jim said, “I would not have backed you up.”

That surprised me. Like I said, Jim was a good principal, one of the best I ever worked with. “Jim,” I said. “That is state law. I have a copy in my briefcase.”

“I know it is,” he said, “but the courts are interpreting it differently now.”

“So, if I wasn’t to remove him, what was I supposed to do?”

“Call the police.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“Nope.”

“That’s crazy. I’m supposed to leave two classrooms full of students sitting on their hands and wait for the cops because of one disruptive student?”

“Yup. That’s what they’re telling us now.”

Bobby went to the office on his own because he knew I wasn’t bluffing. Calling the police would ruin half a day for about fifty students and at least two teachers. Clearly, things were getting much too complicated and I wondered how long I could continue in the teaching profession.

In July of last year a similar case came before our newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, when he was on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A middle school boy in New Mexico had disrupted class by generating fake burps. He wouldn’t stop and was sent into the hall, but he kept opening the door to “let out a giggling belch” as the Daily Signal described it. Then:

“a school resource police officer placed the student under arrest ‘for interfering with the educational process.’ The 13-year-old then spent approximately one hour locked in a juvenile detention facility before he was released to the custody of his mother. He was never charged for his misbehavior.”

The boy’s mother filed suit claiming her son’s civil rights had been violated. This was an even less serious case than the one I dealt with because there was no danger from flying objects, yet the student had been arrested and incarcerated, however briefly. Ten years had passed and the teaching profession had continued its decline. A minor incident became a federal case and made it to a high court, which, in a 94-page ruling decided in the school’s favor.

Gorsuch wrote only four pages in dissent. According to the Daily Signal again: “Gorsuch . . . explain[ed] that a reasonable police officer should have understood that arresting a ‘class clown for burping was going a step too far.'”

Indeed.

Gorsuch concluded that: “the statutory language on which the officer relied for the arrest in this case does not criminalize ‘noise[s] or diversion[s]’ that merely ‘disturb the peace or good order’ of individual classes.”

Referring to his colleagues on the 10th Circuit, he said: “Often enough the law can be ‘a ass-a idiot,'” quoting Charles Dickens, “and there is little we judges can do about it, for it is (or should be) emphatically our job to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people’s representatives. In this particular case, I don’t believe the law happens to be quite as much of a ass as they do.”

Ouch.

Common sense is often a misnomer when applied to educational and judicial practice these days, and it’s refreshing to have a Supreme Court justice willing to point that out.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin  is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.

Read more excellent articles from Family Security Matters  http://familysecuritymatters.org/

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