I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, February 26, 2016

When the Story of a Student Comes Full Circle.....

It was a beautiful, almost Spring-like day two Saturdays ago when I happened to be walking through a neighborhood in West Pensacola for my current campaign for County Commission.

As we approached the woman on the riding lawn mower, she greeted us with a smile and shut down the machine so we could give her our campaign talking points and literature.

She politely listened, and then she looked over to me and said, "I wish you all would do something about that Zero Tolerance against the students!"  To which I replied, "We no longer have Zero Tolerance in our policy, and we only now have minimum mandatory penalties for severe infractions like Bomb Threats and bringing a Firearm to school"
"Well," she continued, "You all at the School Board crushed my daughter and it wasn't fair what you did"   Prying, I inquired, "What did your daughter do, and what did WE do?"

And here's where the story of a student comes full circle...

"She was a good student, a great student, that never got into trouble, ever.  She made one mistake, and it did not hurt anyone, it was not violent, and she was forthright and told the truth!" The mom said.  "Even the Principal of the school asked that she not be kicked out for a year--but the School Board Kicked her out of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX High School anyway!"  Why?"

At that very moment, a chill went up my back even though it was warm and sunny.  I felt that awkward sensation of the hair on my neck standing up.  I knew this story from a few years earlier, because I had voted against the expulsion.  The student in question was an honor student with a GPA above 4.0 and no previous referrals.  But she made two mistakes.  One, she had some sort of a tryst in

 the school parking lot with her boyfriend.  Of course we do not condone that and it was a mistake--no question about it.

One school staff member "Thought" some funny business was going on in the car, so the incident was reported.  The young lady was subsequently brought in to the Principal's office and this is where she did the right thing-- yet here's where doing the right thing turned into her second mistake of that day.......

You see, nobody knew for sure what happened in that parking lot, except this young student whom I will call "Mary."  Mary did the right thing and told the truth that day---more than likely thinking that there would be some sort of mitigation of the penalty because she was forthright, told the truth, and basically made the case for the school by her own truthful testimony that in and of itself was self-incriminating.  Mary was wrong, though.

The recommendation was indeed made by the school's Principal  that Mary not be expelled for a year, yet the Superintendent via his disciplinary committee recommended a year's removal.  I voted against this at the school board meeting where this was laid on the table for our consideration, and I was forceful in my objection.  And if memory serves, I believe that particular vote was a 3-2 with one other school board member, Mrs. Moultrie,  also voting against the penalty--because it was overly harsh given the infraction.

But the one year removal stood, and the student was pulled from XXXXXXXXXXXXXX High School.

"You know" The Mom said, "Mary was really, really upset and depressed over being kicked out....she REALLY loved that school, and I did, too.  That is a great school with great teachers and great kids!"

I then talked with her about the problems I have witnessed where abusive conduct, bullying, and repeated serious misconduct is tolerated by some students (with some amassing as many as 63 referrals)--whereas other students get drop-kicked for (1) one offense, like Mary apparently was.  I told her I hated it, had railed against it, and would NEVER stop trying to fix this lingering issue.  But then I said simply, "I'm sorry."  "I'm sorry about what happened to Mary because it was not right."

After explaining to her that I had seen several cases like Mary's over ten years on the school board and that I have steadfastly voted against such lob-sided punishments, I inquired as to Mary's current status.

The mother's smile returned upon my asking this:  "Here's the thing, it turned out to be a blessing.  I wouldn't let Mary go to XXXXXXXXXX---- no way!.  So I enrolled her in XXXXXXXXXXXX and her teacher XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX said to me "Mary is so intelligent and such a great student, why is she not dual-enrolled at XXX XXXXX XXXXXXXX?"  She continued, "So we took his advice, and Mary has THRIVED at XXX XXXXX XXXXXXXXXX!"  Mom reported.  "You know what, she just graduated and not only has her H.S. Diploma, she finished her A.A. degree at the same time, ahead of schedule---which saved me a ton of money!"  "We're just thrilled!"

I was smiling, too, upon hearing this...

So this was an example of a terrible thing happening to a student, followed by an outcome that was surprisingly good and positive.

And it sure was good to hear that Mary moved on from the incident in our schools to continue her successful academic pursuits.  It was great to hear the full-circle, other side of the story of this student, Mary, and how she held her head up and moved forward with her family's support despite the setbacks in her life.  I predict much success for Mary and her family.

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