Parent, district at odds over 'obscene' gesture

A seemingly minor incident on Ferris Lane is testing once again the limits of a student's freedoms and the school's right to discipline. A 16-year-old student was suspended from the school bus for five days after allegedly making an "obscene" gesture Tuesday directed at a school official.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 24, 2010

 

A seemingly minor incident on Ferris Lane is testing once again the limits of a student's freedoms and the school's right to discipline.

A 16-year-old student was suspended from the school bus for five days after allegedly making an "obscene" gesture Tuesday directed at a school official.

It all began with another, unrelated altercation.

A different student caused a major disruption on the bus. The driver, following procedure, radioed transportation coordinator Dustin Brown. The bus stopped and waited for him.

The bus waited for 40 minutes, according to a neighbor, for Brown to show up and deal with the situation.

The boy, who was later suspended, had driver's ed to get to, his mother, Nikko Frankboner, explained. And before that, he had to eat and do his homework. So he called his soon-to-be stepfather to ask him to come pick him up.

It was when he told Brown he would be getting off the bus that the trouble started. Brown told him he couldn't get off and the boy did not respond in an entirely respectful manner. But the bus started moving again and Brown, according to the procedure, followed the bus in his own car in case the trouble he was called for broke out again.

At his regular stop, however, Dustin Brown saw the boy give him the finger. According to Superintendent Wayne Babcanec, the adolescent made the "obscene gesture" as he crossed the street in front of the bus.

However, the boy says he did not flip off the transportation coordinator. The two boys he was with say he did not make the gesture.

The bus driver did not see anything either.

Brown pulled around into the street.

"Do you think this is a game?" Brown asked.

The two exchanged some heated words. The student, his mother said, was admittedly mouthy. Though the other boys said Brown was rude as well. The student refused to give Brown his name and his friends refused to identify him as well.

So Brown followed the student to his house and knocked on the door. The young man's soon-to-be stepfather answered. Brown told him what his fiance's son had done and that he would write him up. He explained that the boy had been disrespectful and said, "I'm sure that's no surprise to you."

Frankboner said her son has never been in trouble at school before, though she does admit that Brown suspended him from the bus two years ago.

When she got home, Frankboner got a call from Brown. He informed her that her son was suspended from the bus for five days for giving him the finger.

Frankboner lectured her son. She told him he had no right to speak to an adult disrespectfully and that if he did it again he'd be grounded.

Wednesday, she called Babcanec. She said it was inappropriate that Brown had followed her son home a matter of a couple blocks, she said. She also did not see how they could discipline her son for something he said or did off school property.

Babcanec responded that the boy was just coming off the bus and was still under the supervision of the bus driver. Frankboner said Babcanec told her the school's responsibility for the student and therefore its authority was "door-to-door."

Babcanec then elaborated by saying the school's policy was that if a teacher were flipped off at a completely neutral location, for example the Sandusky Mall, the student could be and would be suspended.

The action outside the school would have a detrimental effect on student discipline inside the school, he said.

Eleven months ago, the limits of school authority were tested when a student at Norwalk High was suspended for something she wrote on her MySpace.com page from home. At the time, a lawyer from the public defender's office said the law gave the school authority over actions not expression directed against a teacher off school property.

The student handbook remains unchanged from that time. It still states: "A student shall be respectful toward school personnel, students, and visitors at all times. Teachers have protection under Ohio law, from disrespectful types of student behaviors for 24 hours each day. Any conduct away from school which has a detrimental effect on school discipline and welfare will come within the scope of the school's authority."

When asked to respond to the possibility that the school's policy might be unlawful, Babcanec responded: "have at it."