While some may say this question is all but rhetorical, others may be inclined to remember when school policies and policing were indeed based on well-thought-out intentions.
Not long ago, there was a national news story about a 13-year-old girl who was required by two school administrators to submit to a search that included the removal of all clothes down to her underwear, including the inspection of her bra and genital area.
What dangerous violation could have taken place to incur the drastic measure of a strip search? Was there an alleged weapon or, perhaps, a stash of illicit drugs? Could there have been imminent danger to the girl in question, the staff or the student body?
What was this alleged item that caused at least two school administrators to lose any and all rational thought as they poked around the private parts of a junior high school student?
It was not a dangerous weapon or illicit drug but only the words of a disgruntled former friend who claimed the girl in question had supplied her with an ibuprofen tablet.
Outside of the fact that there was not much probable cause to search for the Advil-like painkiller, at what point do we expect our educators to take it upon themselves to strip-search our children to “protect” us from things that don’t require protecting from?
Other examples of a commonsense-less education system include the case of an Alabama 15-year-old apparently suffering menstrual cramps. She was seen taking an over-the-counter painkiller, and the local school board sentenced her to a 15-day stint in a correctional education facility.
Then there’s the case of two girls who took a cake to school, then searched for and found a butter knife in the band room, cut the cake for their class and, after attempting to return the knife to the locked band room, were witnessed by a teacher placing the butter knife into one of their book bags. The girls were written up for having a knife on school grounds and were advised to “be glad they were not arrested.”
In other cases, we have schools that have banned students from hugging one another, holding hands, playing tag and giving high-fives.
Our local schools have also put in place practices and policies that appear to lack common sense. School administrators have given referrals to students who shared a bag of Cheetos and have banned baked goods from school parties.
While rare food allergies are a dangerous concern, doesn’t the responsibility of reasonable protection fall to the individual and parent and not the school and well-meaning friends? In the case of offering some home-baked cookies for a holiday party, when did a couple dozen of mom’s home-baked specials become more dangerous or less healthy than a package of Oreos?
To understand why rational thought no longer exists in our school systems is to realize that school policies are no longer created to make sense but to avoid the possibility of costly litigation. School administrators are taking drastic actions to limit liability.
When forced to balance the cost of the self-esteem of one traumatized 13-year-old girl against the extremely remote possibility of injury caused from an over-the-counter pain tablet, the Advil and potential litigation wins out.
When forced to choose between allowing two 12-year-old girls the ability to share a bag of Cheetos against the random chance that one of them will have a rare peanut allergy and not enough parenting to understand that she should not accept food from others, the school sees no other choice than banning the sharing of food under any all circumstances.
To understand why school administrators appear to lack common sense is to simply accept that common sense is not an acceptable defense in most litigated matters these days.
• Brian Williams is a 16-year Tracy resident, husband and father of two who works as a supervisor in the cable, phone and Internet industry. He’s among a select group of local Town Crier columnists in the Tracy Press.