Saturday, May 07, 2005

School Forces Student To Hang-Up On Mother's Monthly Phone Call From Iraq

Via Joanne Jacobs, we learn that yet another public school has a public-relations disaster on its hands:

Kevin Francois gave up his lunch break to talk to his mother, but it ended up costing him the rest of the school year.

Francois, a junior at Spencer High School in Columbus, [Georgia] was suspended for disorderly conduct Wednesday after he was told to give up his cell phone at lunch while talking to his mother who is deployed in Iraq, he said.

His mother, Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, left in January for a one-year tour and serves with the 203rd Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

"This is our first time separated like this," said Francois, 17, on Thursday.

Bates came to Fort Benning with her son from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga. She enrolled him at Spencer in August. Since her deployment overseas, Francois, whose father was killed when he was 5 years old, lives with a guardian who has five children in Columbus.

The incident happened when Francois received a call from his mother at 12:30 p.m., which he said was his lunch break. Francois said he went outside the school building to get a better reception when his mother called. A teacher who saw Francois on his phone told him to get off the phone. But he didn't.

Francois said he told the teacher, "This is my mom in Iraq. I'm not about to hang up on my mom."

Francois said the teacher tried to take the phone, causing it to hang up.

The student said he then went with the teacher to the school's office where he surrendered his phone. His mother called again at 12:37 p.m. and left a message scolding her son about hanging up and telling him to answer the phone when she calls.

Did the student violate the school's rules about cell phones?

Of course
he did:

According to the Muscogee County School District Board of Education's policy, students are allowed to have cell phones in school, but cannot use them during school hours.

"They are really allowed to have those cell phones so that after band or after chorus or after the debate and practices are over they have to coordinate with the parents," said Alfred Parham, assistant principal at Spencer. "They're not supposed to use them for conversating back and forth during school because if they were allowed to do that, they could be text messaging each other for test questions."

We think that the administrator's fears about test questions may be a little over the top, but he does have a point regarding the use of cell phones during school hours. Cell phones going off in class are disruptive, to say the least.

But this particular case is another instance of "Zero Tolerance" being taken to its (illogical) extreme.

In their efforts to enforce a "Zero Tolerance" policy regarding students' use of cell phones, the school has stirred-up a hornet's nest of negative publicity.

Stories such as "
Military mom's call leads to son's suspension" are flashed around the country.

What is lost in all this rhetoric are possible factors that might also have aggravated the situation and affected the discipline that was meted-out to the student.

For example, there are allegations that Francois used profanity toward the teacher who initially had asked him to terminate the call. School administrators also charge that Francois was "out of control" when he was in the office and was not allowed to take a second call from his mother.

Even Francois admits that he made some wrong choices:

Francois admitted he was partially at fault for his behavior but said he should have been allowed to talk to his mother.

"I was mad at the time, but I feel now maybe I should've went about it differently," he said. "Maybe I should've just waited outside to pick up the phone. But I don't I feel I should've changed any of my actions. I feel I was right by not hanging up the phone."

For Francois, he said he gets to hear from his mother once a month, and phone calls vary depending on when she can use the phone in Iraq. Francois said his mother calls as late as 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. and tries to catch him during hours he's awake. He said the phone call Wednesday was the first time she called him while he was at school.

The school should have allowed Francois to answer that second call; it would have been the right thing to do. After-all, the student's mother is serving in Iraq.

Francois has been given a ten day suspension from school, which in effect means the rest of the year.

Clearly, this is a case where the school's rigid enforcement of a policy of "Zero Tolerance" did not serve to correct a student's misbehavior, but ended-up tarnishing the school's reputation instead. Worse, this incident will feed the errant notion that many educators are not supportive of our troops in the field.

Update:(PM) According to National Public Radio, the school has reduced Francois's suspension from ten days to three. NPR went on to say that the school has received "several hundred" phone calls in support of Francois.

We think that the right thing to do would be to lift the three day suspension and expunge this whole mess from Francois's permanent record altogether.
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