"Educide" -- It Should Be A Crime

Editorial written by James Baughn on Sunday, October 15, 2000

from the another-story-to-raise-your-blood-pressure dept.

"It is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment that the government may not punish a person simply because it disapproves of the person's speech."
   -- Argument presented in a court filing against the Pulaski County, Arkansas School District

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR -- School violence is at epic proportions. But I'm not talking about physical violence caused by students who bring weapons to school. I'm referring to mental, social, and economic violence caused by school administrators in pursuit of "zero tolerance" policies that make zero sense.

Such common, everyday violence should be called "educide" (a term I just made up) and, more importantly, it should be against the law.

Recent events in Little Rock, Arkansas underscore this problem. The Pulaski County Special School District expelled a 14-year-old for making "terroristic threats" against his ex-girlfriend. That might sound reasonable, except that the "threats" were made in a letter not meant to be seen by anybody else.

The writings only came to light when a so-called "friend" stole the letter and took it to school to show to the ex-girlfriend. It was then that overzealous school administrators expelled the student, forcing him to attend an "alternative school". This happened even after the local police department said "no crime had been committed."

To make matters worse, the student was permanently expelled from all schools after his parents appealed to the school board at a meeting.

Thankfully the decisions of dictatorial school boards such as this are not final. The matter has been taken to Federal court, and the judge has already granted a preliminary injunction against the school, preventing them from enforcing their draconian punishment.

So, to recap, the schools stripped this student of his right to a free education all because of a stupid letter he wrote at his house that was supposed to remain at his house and not be seen by anybody else. That's what I call educational violence -- or educide. Indeed, the attorney representing the student called it "the educational equivalent of the death penalty."

School administrators and school boards have the power to make decisions that will drastically effect the lives of students under their control. Suspensions, expulsions, or other punishments can have a tremendous impact on the future of a student, causing them to drop out of high school or fail to make it into college. And we can say with some certainty that denying them a full education will negatively impact their quality of life when they reach adulthood.

The irony, of course, is that these harsh punishments and "zero tolerance" policies are all designed to combat violence. But in the final analysis they cause more violence than they prevent.

What we need, then, is a law against "educide". When school districts punish a student for something that is clearly Constitutionally protected, the person who made that decision should, at the very least, suffer the same punishment (i.e. expulsion from their job for one year without pay).

And it would be nice if they were required to take "First Amendment sensitivity training" to knock some respect for the Bill of Rights into their skulls.