School Administrators Act Like Movie Buffoons

BY SAM FIELDS
Guest Columnist

(Sam Fields is a Fort Lauderdale attorney, a screaming liberal Democrat and a major movie fan.)

The brouhaha between high school student Katherine Evans and her English teacher Sarah Phelps played out exactly like the Founding Fathers envisioned when they wrote the First Amendment.

At least until Vernon Wormer and Ed Rooney stuck their noses in the debate.  Now the only things certain are that the lawyers will make a small fortune and the poor taxpayer will foot the bill.

First the back story.

Katherine Evans was a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter School who had an immense dislike for Sarah Phelps her Honors English teacher.

Hardly the type to pull a “Columbine or something along those lines she opened a Facebook debate about Ms. Phelps:  “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met.“

Within a couple of days Evans was unanimously hooted down by other students who proclaimed that Phelps is a combination of Professor Kingsfield, Mr. Rogers and Mr. Chips.

Thoroughly beaten, Evans took down the Facebook page three days later.

The First Amendment, which was intended to promote and protect robust debate, worked like a charmalmost.

Enter Principal Peter Bayer, a.k.a. “Principal Ed Rooney from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and his henchman Steve Bruns a.k.a. “Dean Vernon Wormer from Animal House.

As far as they were concerned Phelps was worse than their respective nemeses: Ferris Bueller and Bluto Blutarsky.  It seems like they viewed Evans as a “cyberbully’ with the potential to become the next Columbine High School killer Dylan Klebold.

I can just hear Principal Bayer/Rooney demanding retribution against the evildoer Evans : “What’s so dangerous about a character like Bueller/Evans is [s]he gives good kids bad ideas.  The last thing I need as this point in my career is fifteen hundred Ferris Bueller/Katherine Evans disciples running around these halls.

Enter Dean Steve Bruns/Vernon Wormer:  “The time has come for someone to put his foot down.  And that foot is me. 

But unlike the boys at Delta House in Animal House, who faced only “double secret probation, Evans was suspended for three days and removed from AP classes.  An “A student with an unblemished record, Evans was declared a “Cyber Bully in her permanent school record.

Both Bayer and Bruns, a school behavior specialist, signed her notice of suspension.

Rightfully believing that this was a free speech issue Evans hooked up with attorney Matthew Bavaro and the American Civil Liberties Union. Here is the complaint.

Evans and the school are now in Federal Court where her lawyers have alleged a civil rights violation.  The only thing she is asking is that her record is cleared. 

Hopefully the Judge will first rule that the only bullies at Pines Charter are the incarnates of Rooney and Wormer.  Second, that Rooney and Wormer’s First Amendment GPA is “ZERO POINT ZERO.

 

 

23 thoughts on “School Administrators Act Like Movie Buffoons”

  1. It is relatively easy to make jokes about this, to focus only on the speech considerations which obviously can never to be dismissed. However, school principals and school districts are required to maintain an environment where learning for all students can occur. In the present instance, the principal administered discipline for an offense specifically identified in the the Broward County School Board’s discipline guidelines, and the discipline handed out in response to that offence followed the guidelines to the letter. Far from some vengeful attempt to get back at a particular student, the steps taken were to ensure that learning could continue without undue disruption at a school. It is a long and well established concept, going bak to the beginning of organized elementary and secondary education, that the rights of individual students, including sometimes their right to speak, may at times suppressed and subordinated to the extent required to ensure rights of other students to learn. Over the years, the methods of enforcing that goal have changed. When I was student, a stunt like this would result in a good smack in the mouth. You were not required to like your teachers, but you were required to respect them. A kid has no life reference to guide their judgment of who is a good or bad teacher. I can distictly recall teachers in high school that I thought were jerks, but by the time I became an adult, and looked back on what those teachers were really trying to do for me, it occurred to my adult mind how truly caring they must have been to go out of their way as they did to provide discipline, learning and structure to a growing and immature mind. Years later, some seem to “know better” because, of course, the state of education today is so much better than it used to be. Is it really?

  2. You obviously missed the point that this was done on FACEBOOK which is not in the school nor a school activity.

    There was nothing in the record to indicate that this disrupted school activities.

    What a great world when the government can punish you for speaking your mind on your own free time.

    I suppose that we should find out if on weekends kids are bad mouthing teachers during a party. Let’s also punish them.

    I’ve read your speech demanding order and obedience before…in the orginal German.

  3. This is a straight discipline problem. This kid was threatening the smooth running of the school, regardless of whether it was done on campus or off campus. Primarily, she violated the student rule book of the school.

  4. I didn’t miss the point about Facebook. It doesn’t matter, the activity is listed as prohibited student activity by the School Board’s Discipline Policy. Students are not permitted to solicit hate comments from other students toward a teacher. Period. That disrupts education, and the principal had a duty to stop it. If the student had a problem with a teacher, means are established to process that grievance. The means the student chose are not permitted. Schools have rights to establish codes of conduct otherwise education cannot occur. And as to your German comment, the fact that you chose to sink to that sorry level means you already know you’ve lost this argument. Go play in the muck if you wish, I’ll not follow you there.

    PS — Grow up and think like an adult.

  5. Is saying that a teacher “is the worst teacher I ever met” bullying?
    Why are you allowed to say a teacher “is the best teacher I ever met” but not the worst? Common sense tells me it is a freedom of speech issue.

  6. This has nothing to do with bullying. It has to do with what speech is prohibited under the School Board’s rules for student behavior. Schools are entitled to establish rules that contain certain liberties of students, including certain forms of speech, in order to ensure that education can occur. And they establish means through which students may file grievances against teachers for cause. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right, but it is not an unlimited right, Sam. You have this all wrong. Teachers need to establish a zone of respectful treatment from students if they are to teach them, and that need trumps an individual student’s need to create a disruptive environment that affects the classroom. Put your poncho and love beads down for a moment and think — it makes perfect sense — we’re talking about reasonable rules that kids and schools need in order for education to effectively take place. Including in German class.

  7. Dear “Sam doesn’t get it”

    First of all the government has no rights. It only has powers. Read the Constitution.

    I understand your position perfectly. The government’s rules must be obeyed, never questioned much less challenged.

    I am pretty sure you are a teacher (which I once was) or at least a government worker who thinks [s]he knows what’s best for us and sees those who challenge the government’s power as dangerous to your power.

    The primary mission of all bureaucracies is institutional maintenance.

    To quote your leader, Governor LaPtomaine–“Gentlemen, we have to protect our phony baloney jobs.”

  8. Go read the cases on speech in schools and then try to say that schools have no rights when it comes to containing speech in order to ensure the proper administration of education. Your argument has no merit — governments have powers, rights and obligations just as people do. Your views on the law and on public policy seem to be emotionally driven, rather than based on the facts, long term implications and law, which is unusual for an attorney. Second, I am not a teacher I am a parent. My habit is to state my positions clearly and factually, in contrast with your rants and guesses, which display about as low a batting average as your legal conclusions and public policy capacity. Did you advise Scott Cowan that way? If so, I don’t think he ever paid much attention and understandably so.

    PS — Please try harder to think like an adult who is more interested in protecting the best interests of children than pushing your tired, nowhere, back to the 60′s, let’s all take turns at the bong, grandstanding, pointless, pinko, hippie dogma. Like you, I was there for all of that. But then I grew up.

  9. Dear Mrs Rumsfeld,

    If a teacher thinks that a kid’s off campus speech interferes with her functioning as a teacher she should contact the parents.

    That’s up to the parents who may or may not agree with the kid.

    Or do you think the government should supersede the parents?

    Do believe that students have no First Amendment Rights?

    I went to segregated public schools [North Miami Junior and NM Senior HS] where teachers freely used the n-word. Mr Scott, my ninth grade Civics teacher, favorite expression was “That’s as fishy as a nigger in a woodpile.” I am sure you would have backed the principal (Wilfred E Rice) who punished the kids that complained about it in a Slam Book [The Facebook of the 1950's].

    I am sure you back the Patriot Act. Warrentless searches and the government keeping files on political opponents. All in the name of keeping order.

    You would have been not just a a “Good German” you would have been a Great One.

    By the way if you would actually take time and read the Constitutuion you would see that the words “rights” and “powers” are used over thirty times. Without exception that the word “rights” applies only to people and “powers” applies only to government.

    I don’t fear the kids who stand up to authority. I worry about kids who acquiesce to it. They grow up to be automitons like you.

  10. Go read the law, Sam. Perhaps your pal Tommy Chong can help you between bong hits. Turn off the Pete Seeger music for a moment and join us on this planet, if you please. You may not like it, but you will learn that a student’s first amendment rights are by no means unrestricted, and never have been, rather they are limited to the extent they interfere with education at a school. The administration of the school in question was following the law, as established by the disciplinary and code of conduct regulations of their chartering institution, the Broward County School Board. The act committed by the student is defined as an offense subject to discipline. And the discipline issued followed the established guidelines. Those are the facts. Afterward a student filed a lawsuit, as is her right and the courts will decide the merits of that. I’ve never questioned the right of the student to sue, I question your assertion that the administrators in question acted like “buffoons” — an interesting indictment coming from you based on the quality of your arguments herein — when in fact they did their duty under the existing law and rules. You may take issue with a particular law or rule, but at least acknowledge that it exists. Now, I’m no closer to being a judge or jury in this case than you are to being a judge in this case. Actually, based on the quality of your last race for judge, I might be, but I digress. The point is you can’t credibly call somebody a buffoon for following existing laws and rules. Sure, you have a right to disagree with any law and perhaps that’s the strongest part of your argument. But until the world comes around to seeing things your way we have one set of laws to follow at a time. And, for your information, not that it should matter, I am a pretty well grounded, I’d say garden variety, moderate Democrat, who cares for neither political extreme and believes in rights and responsibilities, in sharp contrast to those ultra left, retro, nowhere, dinosaur types that sometimes infect my party (so by all means stick that in your Rumsfeld and smoke it). As it turns out, the education that this young lady got was good enough to get her into UF. Based on what little I know of her to date, one has to wonder how, but it was. My money remains on the school over this kid when it comes to judgments about what it takes to produce quality educational results. It’s the safe bet and what they did will help more kids do well in school, not less. With your agenda, I’m not so sure.

  11. The comment was made off campus and therefore shouldn’t interrupt the teacher’s class and/or ability to conduct class, unless she IS the “worst teacher”. Every teacher-especially public school teachers- and Pines Charter is technically (sort of) a public school– has supporters and dissenters. That’s just part of teaching the public. But part of a teacher’s job is to get students to engage in critical thinking, not just regurgitate facts. So this little lawsuit should be doing just that, and I hope the Social Studies teacher at the school is taking advantage of this lesson in history and “current events”, which I’m sure he/she is NOT! (because the charter schools do not have tenure and can fire teachers very freely)

  12. You are entitled to that. Best wishes for the Holidays Sam. I don’t agree with you on much but you’re clearly a caring guy and that’s worth respecting.

    Yes, all charter schools are public schools.

  13. I notice that you never answer a question. For example why no coment on the racist teacher and principal at my Junior High.

    I can only assume that in the name of bureaucratic power that you would have supported punishing the students who objected to a teacher’s racist comments.

  14. I didn’t respond to your charming teacher’s race comment because it sounded like another one of your non sequiturs. Unless I was mistaken, the subject we were discussing here involved the educationally disruptive speech of students. Do you now want to discuss the actionable statements of teachers? Please pick a subject.

    But since you want an answer — here it is. If a student wishes to file a complaint against a teacher, for any reason, appropriate means are established through which that student may file a complaint without fear of disrupting the educational process. But in choosing alternate methods individually to voice their concerns, especially when the means chosen constitute prohibited student behavior, as set forth in the student code of conduct, they proceed at their own risk and open themselves to discipline.

    This conversation is becoming stale and boring. Schools have the right to establish reasonable rules that ensure order and the ability of other students to learn. Encouraging hate speech from other students against a teacher is well established as prohibited behevior. There is no merit to your viewpoint.

    FROM BUDDY:

    This debate has been very interesting. I don’t believe the U. S. Supreme Court has ever ruled on an issue like this concerning Internet speech. The Supremes did rule in 2007 on the following:

    Court Backs School On Speech Curbs: 5-4 Majority Cites Perils of Illegal Drugs In Case of the ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Banner
    by Charles Lane
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, June 26, 2007; Page A06

    The Supreme Court yesterday gave public schools new authority to regulate what students say, allowing principals to punish speech or demonstrations that may “reasonably be viewed” as promoting illegal drug use.

    In its most significant ruling on student speech in almost two decades, the court said that the principal of a high school in Juneau, Alaska, did not violate senior Joseph Frederick’s constitutional right to free speech when she suspended him for unfurling a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as students waited for the Olympic torch relay to pass their school in 2002. A bong is a water pipe commonly used to smoke marijuana.

  15. The law acknowledges a school’s ability to limit the speech of students where the speech would disrupt the educational process. I think that line of reasoning fits well agaist the facts in this case. I think that’s OK so long as an alternate means of filing grievances exists for students.

  16. While her original statement was opinion, she stated it with the goal of creating and dedicating a page to post libelous or other statements designed to ruin her reputation as a teacher. Which makes it bullying

  17. What a world you and the rest of the bureaucrats/teachers want to live in.—You may not criticize government officials you may only praise them.

    In case you have not figured it out a lot of teachers suck. But seniority and union contracts protect their jobs. As a practical matter there is no recourse except political speech. Now you want to protect yourselves from that.

    You can’t silence the critics.

    [Heads up kids]

    Students will be just like all of you. They will do it anonymously and it will be really vicious.

    Not one of you gutless wonders that disagrees with me has the courage to identify themselves. But then again if I was writing the self serving bullshit you are writing I would want to hide my identity.

    The simple truth is that some of you if not all of you work for The Broward School system or are in some way connected to it.

    Just keep protecting those phoney baloney “gummint” jobs.

  18. Now, now Sammy. Behave nicely or you’ll have to sit in the corner until you calm down. Apparently only Sam is entitled to have an opinion, and if anyone should dare to contradict him, and worse, offer superior reasoning to rebut his viewpoints, he then gets very testy. After all, one must be a “gummint” person, or a Nazi, or speak German, should they dare to disagree with Sammy’s opinions. And then we use curse words. Bad Sammy, go wash your mouth out with soap.

  19. Dear BlogArds (cowardly bloggers who won’t sign their name much less divulge their conflicts)

    Am I a First Amendment extremist?

    You bet.

    To quote my former neighbor libertarian Karl Hess who wrote and Barry Goldwater spoke: “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

    All I hear from my critics is people who pretend to believe in the First Amendment but want an exception for their bureaucratic bailiwick.

  20. You’re out of touch Sam. The world has spun away from you and you’ve become a stranger in a strange place. If you are going to write columns, learn to take the heat because that too is what the first amendment is all about.

  21. Apparently you live in a world where the Bill of Rights, most particularly the First Amendment is an anachronism and Winston Smith is a troublemaker who got is rightful comeuppence.

    That is a world I will fight to my last breath…which I am sure for you and your ilk can’t come to soon.

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