Friday, November 8, 2013

Define Expulsion

     First off, I'm not going to cite specifics such as names of individuals or schools because of the possibility of future Civil Rights litigation.
     Secondly, having said that, let me start by saying that my youngest son got expelled from his high school yesterday. If you know anything at all about my two younger sons, you'll know they're both biracial. And they both look it.
     It started when my son called me late this morning in a state of high excitement, announcing he'd been expelled. After an anxious serious of phone calls, I finally got his side of the story and, according to him, here's what happened:
     A short time ago, my son walked past a teacher while he was wearing a ball cap. Apparently, this is a violation of a capriciously and unevenly enforced dress code. She tried to get his attention twice and, because he was listening to music on his iPod, he didn't hear her. She followed him and finally got his attention. My son apologized for not taking his hat off but did not apologize for not hearing her. At no time, when he walked back and spoke to her did she back up or show the slightest sign of fear for her safety. This is very important to remember.
     Then just yesterday, my son was accused by a school administrator of being inebriated. The alcohol the official had smelled on my son was alcohol-based hand sanitizer and my son said he'd used it no less than three times that day. Undeterred, the administrator made him breathe into his face and the older man insisted my son had alcohol on his breath. He then told my son that "one way or the other, (he was) going to take a breathalyzer test." Eventually, law enforcement got involved and the city police then transported my boy to the police station where he'd aced not one but two breathalyzer tests.
     Prior to this non-incident, he'd been suspended for three days for "inappropriate behavior" and dropping grades. While it's true my son's grades have dropped, it was because of working up to 56 hours a week at his night job and not having the time or energy to do his homework and studying.
     After the non-incident involving the non-existent alcohol, his suspension was bumped up to outright expulsion. Starting Tuesday, he's going back to a smaller, satellite school still under the auspices of the main school in question, but this is partly devoted to kids with special needs. My son had gone to this school with smaller class sizes until he was deemed ready for the larger school.
     Knowing that his legal guardian, his late mother's sister, couldn't leave work or take phone calls until after 5, it fell to me to go directly to the school and talk to the administrator. I began getting pushback immediately. First, the principal was at a meeting, then they couldn't divulge to me what had happened without consent from my son. Then, once they got it, they told me I'd have to come back at 1:30 so I could meet with the principal himself.
     According to my son, one of the reasons for his expulsion was because the teacher who'd chased him over his ballcap said after the incident she felt as if she was in fear of her life. My son took none of her classes and she didn't know him at all.
     So I sat down with the head principal and he began a lengthy monologue dedicated to the insistence that my son was completely at fault for "inappropriate behavior" (which in this case, means showing negative emotion after being singled out and accused of destructive behaviors for which it'd been proved he was not guilty). And, according to the principal, he wasn't expelled at all but "transferred."
     Again, I need to reiterate that his "transfer" was the unnatural progression of what had started out as a three day suspension after being falsely accused of drinking at school. I saw a bottle of the hand sanitizer they use: It's 63% alcohol. I do not fault the administrator for smelling it. I fault him for insisting my son had it on his breath when he did not and chose to get law enforcement involved.
     The principal justified getting the constabulary involved by taking him out of school, stuffing him in the back of a cruiser and then being coerced into taking a breathalyzer test in violation of his 4th amendment rights because of his "confrontational attitude." I asked the principal, "Wouldn't you, too, be visibly upset at being accused of doing something you know you didn't do?"
     Perhaps I'm springing from a position of complete ignorance but I'm pretty sure than many of the almost completely white faculty and student body use the same hand sanitizer and are not accused of drinking liquor, which is an entirely different smell.
     Of course, the principal insisted that racial profiling was not at all a factor, despite the fact the teacher who retroactively was in fear for her life was a short, white woman and my son an obviously biracial, tall teenage male. I tried to impress upon the principal that, despite whatever semantics he uses or however much he may try to lay the blame for this expulsion, excuse me, "transfer" on my son, the optics look bad. "Perception is 90% of what we go on," I told him.
     The principal, himself a biracial man, intimated that he himself had been subject to racial profiling. I responded to that by informing him that he was a pillar of the community, an all-powerful authority figure and the principal of a large, suburban high school. He has options and latitudes in how he chooses to deal with racial profiling or prejudice. My son, being a largely powerless black teen, who looks much more black than his principal, doesn't have those options at his disposal. Sometimes, lashing out and showing anger is the only way we have to fight against that. The school, I said, has to make allowances for human emotion and we cannot expect children 13-19 years-old to act like mature, pragmatic, middle-aged adults.
     Perhaps I should've mentioned this to him but it seems to me the murder of Danvers math teacher Colleen Ritzer at the hands of Philip Chism may have indirectly played a part in this. Chism is a hulking, six foot-tall biracial boy who allegedly murdered this teacher in a bathroom and was somehow able to carry her bloody body through the school and dump her in the woods undetected. This happened right before Game One of the World Series, so it's still fresh in the minds of many, especially those in the relatively small educational community of Massachusetts.
     And I don't think it's too far from the realm of possibility that not only was racial profiling a motive in my son's expulsion but so was the reactionary outcome with this murder barely in litigation. We all know racial profiling exists everywhere. It happens in the street, in the schools, in the workplace, in stores (such as Barney's), everywhere. But we're informed, and in many cases, misinformed to spring into action when faced with false equivalences. A biracial male student murders a much smaller white female teacher, therefore every small female white teacher gets to pull the race card and claim she's in fear of her life when standing toe to toe with another biracial male student, especially one who feels as if he's being singled out for special attention over something as minor as a dress code infraction over a ballcap.
     The one thing on which all parties agree is that this expulsion or transfer or whatever word you choose to use, happened after a short series of incidents, culminating in an expulsion over a trumped-up charge of drinking on school grounds. I told the principal that however he cut it, his administrator was wrong and my son was telling the truth. I told him his grades were slipping of late (he used to be a straight A student last year at the main school) not because he needed smaller class size but because his employer (Dunkin' Donuts) was making him work up to 56 hours a week. I asked the principal if he could prove the larger class sizes at the main school were contributory to my son's slipping grades and he contemptuously dismissed this very valid question as if it didn't even deserve consideration. And yet, smaller class size and student body was the school's very rationale for expelling him.
     Or, at least, that was the one they'd finally settled on. I broached the possibility that perhaps his teacher was suffering from "Angry Black Man Syndrome", a virtually atavistic dysfunction from which many white people suffer and use as a basis for their own unacknowledged racism. It's rather obvious to me after having spoken at some length to both sides that they were casting about for an excuse to get my son out of that school and, after trying a few on, they finally found one: the bogus "incident" involving the phantom alcohol and him showing anger at being accused of being drunk.
     My son didn't fail his school. His school failed him. They pushed him, got what they wanted and did the Pontius Pilate thing and foisted him off on another school. My son is so infuriated and so mortally offended by this incident he honestly does not want to go back to the main school.
     Yet, and I admit I'm saying this as a flame-breathing liberal who's militantly opposed to any racial prejudice, especially when my flesh and blood is concerned, it's obvious to me that my son was a victim of racial profiling. With less than seven months to go in his high school career, his school washed its hands of him and dumped him on someone else's doorstep. It's quite likely they were using as their moral compass a murder that happened in Danvers less than a month ago that shocked an entire community.
     I think my boy was made to pay for someone else's alleged crime and I think it's time to get the NAACP involved as my son suggested. Input?


At November 9, 2013 at 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, do. They have more power than an individual. and that organization actually has teeth. Although I believe the NAACP abuses their power from time to time, in this sort of case they would be an invaluable asset.
I hope they agree to help your son in this matter.
My opinion only, of course.

At November 9, 2013 at 9:51 AM, Blogger Mithras61 said...

Honestly, I don't see a down side to getting the NAACP involved. I suspect that there would be some hurt feelings on the side of the school district, and possibly the administration, but with only 7 months left in his schooling, I suspect that your son would be able to negotiate the waters of that with minimal issue. The only thing I would point out to you is that with only 7 months left, and an administration that obviously has a problem with your son, more than a little foot-dragging seems likely to occur. It may very well be that any resolution would happen after your son's schooling is completed. I'm not suggesting that this would be a negative, since it would likely help dampen enthusiasm for future students to be expelled to address trumped up "issues" but only that such action may not directly benefit your own offspring.

And yes, I have personally gotten into a union-backed dispute with a former employer that led to improvements for other employees after I left, so I do actually view this as a net benefit.

At November 11, 2013 at 12:18 AM, Anonymous CC said...

On a minor note: isn't it illegal to make a (presumably) under 18-year old work 56 hours a week?

At November 11, 2013 at 8:59 AM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

I believe so, CC, but my son is 19.

At November 12, 2013 at 10:25 PM, Blogger Stan B. said...

I'm not surprised, particularly in a "suburban" school setting, and with that other incident obviously casting its long and fearful, racial shadow. School bureaucracies wherever are some of the most cowardly, corrupt institutions imaginable. It's no small wonder why so many of our lowliest politicians can trace their more than dubious careers directly back to the less than hallowed halls of school administration.

Facts and reality have nothing to do with these types, they have their own agenda- which is to mind each other's backs with a ferocity that would rival even the Bush admin of yore. Yeah, I'm talking from personal experience, three different admins on two different coasts, each one more distasteful than the last.

See what the NAACP has to say, but don't expect much, administrative behavior worse than this is both commonplace and routine throughout the land, and they've probably got a back load of far more egregious cases to contend with. Not that that that makes you and yours feel any better, or make this any the less wrong.

Take it as far as you can, make as much noise as you can; sad fact is, you probably won't get much in the way of satisfaction, but at least make 'em sweat. Your son deserves that much, and I know you're the guy who can do it.


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