Norwalk City Schools would save themselves a lot of trouble if officials simply followed the letter of the law. Because, for the second time in a year, the school district has come under scrutiny following a dispute about a student who was "disrespectful" to a staff member off school grounds.
Last year, it was a student's MySpace.com Web page that disparaged and insulted the assistant principal. This time, a student allegedly made an obscene gesture to a school official after exiting the bus. Both students were disciplined under a section of the student handbook, which references the Ohio Revised Code, that states teachers are entitled to respect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
End of story, right?
Well, it should be. The problem is the law the handbook cites actually allows teachers to protection from actions not expressions. So, for example, a student is never entitled to egg a teacher's home and can be punished by the school as well as by law. But, theoretically, a student could see a teacher in a mall and, however immature or inadvisable, make an obscene gesture without repercussion.
At some point an angry parent will challenge the school's handbook and, based on the evaluation of the assistant Huron County public defender during the MySpace controversy, the student will win. Though the misrepresentation of the law was brought to the school officials' attention last year, this section of 2006-07 handbook reads exactly as the 2005-06 model.
The district says it is doing what it thinks is best to try and preserve order and respect for teachers. But that is just an easy-to-hide-behind clich. Students have been insulting teachers behind their back since the first caveman tried to explain the concept of fire to others yet the learning continues. In the pursuit of respect, the school is profanning the law and creating more problems than it is solving.