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RESPONSIBILITY

7/15/99

 

The fifteen minutes of fame that the Plainview-Old Bethpage Schools achieved owing to a Senior Class sponsored food fight is disturbing on a number of counts. The event revealed the weakness of the district’s discipline program, the inability of some highly vocal parents to support the teaching of responsibility and the spinelessness of the central administration that caved into their pressure almost before it even began to organize.

The PCT has for some time argued that the Board of Education and the administration of our district have not been as attentive to issues of student discipline as they should be. Far too often the disposition of a discipline case is determined more by projected reaction of a student’s parents than by sound professional judgement. Thus, we have an attendance policy that specifies the minimum attendance requirements of the district and the consequences of not meeting those requirements. However, the policy is unevenly and unfairly enforced with the result that the student body does not take it seriously. It should not be the least surprising that students elaborately planned and staged a food fight in the high school cafeteria. Not much in their school experience would have suggested to them that this was wrong and that their behavior would bring consequences, sad as that may be.

Surely one of the central functions of a public school system is to inculcate in the young the notion that citizens are responsible for their behavior. Yet for the schools to successfully do this, they must have the political will of the community behind them. When the high school principal took decisive action and canceled the Senior Prom until those who organized this event came forward and accepted responsibility for their actions, the district came under attach from parents who appear to have been unable to understand the need of the schools to act against such behavior and unable to discern the benefit to all children when schools teach the lesson of individual responsibility. They seemed to think that the school is more responsible for the cost of prom tickets and dresses than it is for the moral and ethical development of their children.

To the leadership of our district, a handful of vocal citizens is often enough to call into question any action. They almost never meet a complaint that they are not obliged to respond to. In this case, before there was any chance to use peer pressure in a positive way to get the organizers of the food fight to come forward an accept responsibility, the central administration caved in and told people that, "Nobody ever said that the prom was canceled. We have to get this thing behind us."

Yes, we needed to get it behind us, but the way in which this matter was handled will have lasting consequences. Already, the Junior Class is talking about the pranks they will do next year. If there are no consequences, why not loose thousands of crickets in the school, bring hundreds of pets to school or even bigger food fight? Why not? Nobody seems to care very much.

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