Should a 10-year-old girl with no discipline record be suspended from classes for exclaiming in the school hallway to a girl friend, “I‘ll kill her”?
One middle school principal said, “Yes,” and one father last week let the Fayette County Board of Education know how he felt about that.
Vick Bolton on Feb. 17 insisted that schools have too much autonomy and no accountability when it comes to some allegations of student disciplinary infractions.
Bolton in addressing the school board identified himself as a consultant, trainer, minister and chairman of the Fayette County Zoning Board of Appeals. He is also the parent of a middle school girl.
Bolton in his statement fundamentally asked that an appeals process be instituted when a student is assigned ISS (in-school suspension). Doing so, Bolton said, would provide parents with a way to “be heard in a way that is more tangible than is the currently methodology employed.” That current methodology includes an autonomy in schools that is unbalanced, Bolton said after the meeting.
“My daughter is a student in a Fayette County school,” Bolton told board members as he began his statement. “She was the victim of an assault on her character and her reputation and her self-esteem through an over-zealous employment of the county’s zero-tolerance, or whatever it’s called, code of conduct policy.”
Bolton on Sunday told The Citizen that his daughter, then 10 years old, was overheard making a remark in a hallway last fall that soon landed her in ISS. His daughter was having a conversation with friends when the topic of a particular boy came up and whether his daughter liked or did not like him, said Bolton. When one of her friends remarked that another girl might say something to the boy, Bolton said his daughter’s response was “If she does that, I’ll kill her.”
“It was the classic inappropriate metaphor. She was making a joke,” Bolton said Sunday, emphasizing the over-use of the word “kill” that is used frequently in the American language and is almost never meant to be literal.
“But some woman overheard it, wrote it up and sent it to the office as a ‘terroristic threat,’” Bolton said. “The woman didn’t say anything to my daughter, she didn’t check for the context of what was said. If the word ‘killed’ is a violation, there would be nobody at school. The word is used very frequently in our language and is often used in school sports at school (in reference to ‘killing’ another team).”
Bolton told The Citizen that his daughter was subsequently sent to ISS for two days.
“The word ‘kill’ is still in her record even though the infraction has now been downgraded from making terroristic threats to a general office referral. Since there was no tangible threat that word doesn’t need to be in her record. If the teacher, or anyone, had investigated they would have found that out,” Bolton said Sunday. “In my opinion there is too much unchecked autonomy and too much authority but no accountability. This is a flawed (disciplinary) process. There is an institutional arrogance that says ‘we are the school.’ And for (short-term disciplinary issues) there is no process for parents.”
Part of Bolton’s stated concern dealt with the investigative process that he believes was less than thorough.
“I happen to know on the afternoon the incident took place the principal was packing up to leave the school because he was driving down the road to speak at a conference the next day and he was more focused on getting his speech ready and getting himself in position to be where he needed to be the next day than he was to investigate the situation,” Bolton told board members.
“This child is now an 11-year-old who is more likely to be bullied than to bully. She has never been in a fight in her life. She doesn’t use bad language. She has gotten off the bus several times because someone used an inappropriate name or slur or whatever referring to her on the bus on the way home. This is not a child who is a problem or a threat to anyone. She made an inappropriate comment in jest to a classmate that was overhead by a teacher. She was then referred to the office without the teacher ever having spoken a word to her. And she was assigned to ISS without the principal so much as investigating the incident at all.”
Bolton told the board that he was addressing them because he had spoken with several others in the school and at central office.
“I’ve escalated the issue up through most of this room, I’ve spoken with and met with most of the folks that have roles in this process here in the district. And it’s obvious that I’m not going to receive a satisfactory resolution to the issue. But I would like to ask this board that you consider some kind of policy, an appeals process, a board, a committee, a cabinet or something that allows parents to come to the district when there is a clear abuse of the system in the school district.”
Bolton again said that principals in the Fayette County School System have too much autonomy and no accountability.
As is customary with the public comments portion of the meeting, board members listened but made no response to Bolton’s comments.
Commenting on the issue Friday, school system Discipline/Attendance Coordinator C.W. Campbell in general terms noted the legal distinction between short-term and long-term suspensions. Short-term suspension occurs when the action is less than 10 days, Campbell said. By definition, long-term suspension is a disciplinary action of 10 days or longer.
A 1975 federal case, Goss v. Lopez, determined that students must be allowed due process by way of a hearing prior to subjecting the students to a suspension. The law applies to long-term suspensions, said Campbell, and not to short-term actions such as fewer than 10 days in ISS.
The federal law says there is no right to appeal on suspensions of less than 10 days, Campbell added.
That said, Campbell noted that in short-term suspensions such as ISS the parent is notified, either verbally or in writing, prior to the child entering ISS.
Campbell said that, either way, the school system has a progressive discipline manual. The administrator’s role is to investigate and students are always afforded due process, he said. The difference, Campbell said, is that long-term suspension has an appeals process while short-term suspensions do not.