Tuesday, April 30, 2002

RADEL: High school discipline not easy as pie

'Zero tolerance'

By Cliff Radel, cradel@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Blind Justice took a whipped cream pie in the face recently at Lakota East High School.

        The way the authorities dealt with the matter shows how high the discipline stakes have been raised in schools.

        This is the era of Columbine and, Erfurt, Germany, the scene of last week's horror that left 17 dead inside a high school. Irrational behavior, no matter how benign, cannot be encouraged. Or tolerated. No telling where it will lead.

        So, justice must be swift. Punishment certain. Compassion still exists. But common sense has become very hard-nosed.

        “The pie incident,” as it is commonly called, took place in the Butler County school's lunchroom on April 8. During meal time, with 200-plus students for an audience, a 17-year-old junior nailed the football coach with a pie.

        Splat! Right in the kisser. Whipped cream in a pie tin. No crust. No fruit filling. Just cream.


        The student's attorney, Jeffery Meadows, and Mike Taylor, Lakota Schools assistant superintendent, told me the coach was not injured. Except for maybe a severely bruised ego.

        “It was humiliating, very disrespectful,” said Mike Taylor.

        “It was grossly inappropriate,” said Jeffrey Meadows. His client, a teacher's son, admitted as much in a written apology to his target.

        The coach was on lunchroom duty that day. He did not see the pie coming.

        The student does not play football. He is not in any of the coach's classes.

        This particular lunchtime was not a special goof session. It was not part of National Pie in Your Face Day.

        The school was not amused. The student was arrested.

        “We saw the pie incident as being an assault on a teacher,” said the assistant superintendent.

        “It was a prank,” said the lawyer. He feels the pie toss does not meet an assault's requirement of “intending to cause harm or attempting to cause harm.”

        Assault or prank — no space here for a legal debate. Think, instead, of reaction or overreaction.

        The student spent two nights in the juvenile detention center. He went before a magistrate and was put on probation, assigned 20 hours of community service and fined $50 plus court costs.

        Suspended from school for 10 days, he sat through an expulsion hearing. And survived.

        He's back in school. Started his second week of classes Monday. But not at Lakota East.

        “He is in a structured school setting,” Mike Taylor said. “I didn't think putting him back in Lakota East was sending the right message.”

        Having him arrested and putting him behind bars for two nights doesn't seem right either. Seems extreme.

        But then, I'm not the one with whipped cream on my face. It's easy to sit back, maybe even snicker at “the pie incident” and wonder: What's the big deal?

        Put into perspective

        On the scale of student pranks, a pie toss ranks rather low. It's not as bad as these incidents in the past year's news: Deflating Indian Hill's school bus tires; dumping pig manure in Badin High School; pouring drain cleaner in a teacher's water bottle at Oyler Elementary.

        But, these are tense times. This is the era of Columbine. Zero tolerance rules.

        Mike Taylor told me Lakota schools “use zero tolerance with common sense.”

        That's good. Schools must realize that while times have changed — they're not as simple or as safe as they used to be — one thing remains the same:

        Kids will still do dumb things. Adults just must be careful not to make matters even worse.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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