Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Moriarty and vanilla on the Bench

If you enter "judge lanny moriarty" into the Google search engine, you will almost instantly have access to 93,000 entries.  This number is quite possibly many hundreds of times more than you would have gotten a week ago.  This is the result of the Diane Tran case which came before this justice in Texas.  Mr. Moriarty fined Miss Tran $100 and threw her in jail for truancy.

Many news services have reported this case, and hundreds of bloggers have addressed the issue.  Read about it via your own search.

I am not about to address the issue of idiocy vs. industry.  What I will address is the issue of enforcement of rules, the twine that binds Gulliver to immobility.

It is a given that no public school, nor any other school for that matter, can function without rules.  It is the case that common sense, discernment, and judgment are often inhibited in the enforcement of the rules by "zero tolerance" mindsets.

Many years ago there was a student, a junior in high school, who was suspended a semester for violation of the school's attendance policy.  This punishment and the steps leading up to it were clearly spelled out and ignorance of the rule as excuse is not even a consideration.  I became involved when the parent of the child appealed the ruling and the process had arrived at the point of consideration by a hearing officer.  I was appointed hearing officer.

I had strong personal feelings about the rule. One of my own children had fallen victim to the rule and suffered the same punishment.  But that is not why I found the rule entirely too rigid and objectionable on its face.  My position was, and is, that suspension for truancy and/or habitual tardiness is on its face to give the child exactly what he wants, which is to be not in school.  How stupid is that?

I was charged with the responsibility of hearing the appeal of the parent and the child vis a vis the alleged violation of the rule.  There was no question of the violation.  There was no question about the clarity of the rule.



Jim said...

I say that you had to enforce the rule in this case, but you could work in the background to get the rule changed for the future.

My youngest son, who finishes the 7th grade this week, recently got into a little trouble in school. He had been repeatedly caught running in the halls and going down an up staircase. After enough incidents, he was assigned teachers and staff to escort him from class to class for the rest of the school year, which amounted to about ten school days. One afternoon either he decided to skirt his escort (the school's side) or the escort failed to appear and so he went to class on his own (my son's side), which earned him early-morning in-school suspension.

The rule about running in the halls was not in dispute, either by son or parents. The rule about the staircases, however, seemed entirely ridiculous to the boy. "That staircase is closer to my next class; the down staircase requires a trip in the other direction and then back. So why can't they have the staircases go in both directions and have students keep to the right?"

I couldn't argue with my son's logic. It strikes me as silly to have directional staircases.

But, I told him, there are over 1,000 highly hormonal teenagers in that building, and there need to be rules to keep order or things will get out of order in a hurry. The rest of the discussion centered around keeping to these rules whether they were logical or not -- especially since none of them appeared to be illegal or immoral.

I did not discuss with him how ridiculous I find the "punishment" of having teachers escort him from class to class. As if the teachers don't have something better to do with the passing periods. Sheesh.

Lin said...

I am with you on this one, but how about in-school detention/suspension? Do they do that there? We had a special trailer out back of the school where the in-school suspensions were held. You were given your lessons to do without any of the niceties like socialization or interaction of the other kids--well, except the other ones who were in trouble too.

I agree--suspensions are needed, but the logic is wonky.

Shelly said...

I still can't believe the Diane Tran case. Wow.

In cases of extreme truancy at our school, the judge requies the parent to attend classes with their child for a certain amount of time. We have very little truancy.

Chuck said...


What Would Solomon Do? or Jesus?

vanilla said...

Jim, your judgment is correct. I was not in a position to dispense mercy in that my only authority was to determine whether or not the infraction occurred and correct disciplinary procedures were followed.

Your son’s discipline, nay I should say punishment, is a good example of overkill in enforcing rules. The AP might have had a little man-to-man with him, even to the point of agreeing that the rule was too arbitrary, but suggesting the boy might
follow it anyway, if for no other reason than to humor the powers that be. Then another offense would trigger the Breakfast Club for a day. You are too right, teachers have better things to do than to escort kids down the down stairway.
There is no way that all school rules can please everyone, nor will all of them appear to be reasonable to everyone. Sometimes we have to be arbitrary simply to effect order, as you hinted. But what I would hope to see is
enforcement by discernment, reason and logic, fitting the punishment or correction to the circumstances.

Lin, I am happy to report that the intervening years between the time of the story and the present have been utilized to improve some of these situations. The school has adopted in-school suspensions. The classes for those affected are actually held at the corporation office complex which is eight city blocks from the school.

Shelly, I’m with you. I think the Tran case is a perfect example of over-reacting to a violation of a necessary rule. In support of your district, I like the parent-attends-with-child approach. Nothing gets a parent’s attention like interruption of her/his plans.

Chuck, since the violation did occur, the punishment was clearly defined, and the documentation and procedures were in order, vanilla did exactly as Solomon would have done.

Anonymous said...

Just more stupid stuff...Does anyone actually read any of these "rules" before enacting them?

vanilla said...

Grace, read them? I am sure you will be stunned to learn that they are often the result of hours and hours of committee "work." But project the consequences? Doubtful.

Sharkbytes said...

School rules rarely make sense. They just are.