Friday, September 30, 2005

Q: What's the Difference Between the Keystone Cops and OPS Administrators? A: There's a Difference?

We are forced to offer grudging congratulations to WOWT's Brian Mastre for his "where is she now?" piece on the girl suspended by the Omaha Public Schools in 2000 for bringing a pair of safety scissors to North High School, where she was a student at the time.

Mastre's story mirrored our own reaction to news earlier this week that OPS had again overreacted and threatened to severely discipline a 5-year-old for accidentally bringing a butter knife to kindergarten via his bookbag. "Didn't they learn this lesson five years ago?" we kept asking. That seemed to be the jist of Channel 6's story, as well.

Eventually, in the current case, the district backed off, but only after the poor kid's parents brought in high-powered attorney James Martin Davis. It's yet another in a series of ham-handed moves by the state's largest school system.

What makes this incident more amusing—and frightening—is that a district capable of botching a simple case like this wants to foist its bumbling ways on 27 more schools that currently belong to the Millard, Ralston, and Elkhorn school districts.

We have seriously considered starting a spinoff blog called OMA Schools to chronicle the follies of OPS. It seems to us that superintendent John Mackiel's ego is driving much of what goes on at OPS these days, and a balloon that big is just asking to be popped.


DarthSchrader said...

Those Elkhorn kids bring buck knives to school, and eat the covers of their textbooks. Oh comes trouble.

Sidebar Sam said...

So, now you're an expert on how to run a school district, too? Actually, I can see both sides and it turns into a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario.

First of all, you do have to question what the hell that principal was thinking, as the punishment was entirely her discretion. Regarding other cases that have hit the news, what is so hard to understand about not taking things to school that are banned, even the scissors that you referred to.

Some of the zero-tolerance stuff is ridiculous, but what would the reaction be when someday a kid used a pair a nail clippers to injure another student? You'd complain that such items should not be allowed in school ... that the school district should have had a policy of zero tolerance. Don't let your allegience to Millard cloud your judgement on this one.

Charles said...

There are two issues at large here, one regarding the annexation of outlying school disctricts and the second being this specific zero-tolerance issue.

Both are examples how Mackiel is not running his district. In the former he is choosing to absorb, like some fattening amoeba, rather that solve his district's problems. Let the great unification solve my problem.

The latter and more current is that of zero tolerance. The big issue is that most people are reactionary. Zero-tolerance is an attempt to be proactive. Zero-tolerance should work as a determination of offense, ie a prohibited item carries a mandatory punishment, but that punishment can be tempered with reason.

If Mackiel (and in this case the parents) was on his game he would recognize this as an opportunity to teach the child about consequences. However, the notion of a permanent record should be done away with.

Sidebar Sam said...

Charles, I am pretty much in agreement with what you said, but I am sure this was in the media BEFORE he even knew what was going on. Let me explain that as an OPS parent, I very much dislike Mackiel and I wish the board would have let him go to Minnesota. However, I also know the school system well enough to know that the principal of this school has great flexibility as to how to handle this case. Like most principals I've had to deal with, she attempted to take the easy way out and hide behind "policy." On the other hand, I have no respect for parents who go running off camera-hound Davis to do their bidding.

Cogitor said...

I attended and graduated from OPS schools. In fact, John Mackiel was a counselor at my high school when I was there. I think I generally get along pretty well in the smarts department (though I'm sure some would disagree), and I always thought the objections of Millard, Elkhorn, and others were mostly unfounded, and in some cases rather silly. Now it would seem that it is OPS who looks silly...again.

What bothers me about this is that an institution that is supposed to be dedicated to education repeatedly displays such a complete lack of common sense. Zero tolerance is OPS' attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility for thinking. It's an attempt to excuse themselves from making the effort to execise any common sense.

This last incident was an exercise in overkill from all angles. OPS was stupid to recommend a suspension. The parents were ridiculous to hire a grandstander like Davis and parade their child around his office during a televised press conference. Good God! Apparently none of the parties involved possess any common sense.

Sidebar Sam asks what the reaction would be to some kid hurting someone else with nail clippers. I'll tell you what the reaction should be: the same as it was a few decades back when we were kids. We got into trouble. Maybe we got suspended or even expelled. But we didn't have parents looking for attention or a quick buck running the school or the nail clipper manufacturer into court because one child hurt another...accident or not.

It's in part a product of OPS trying to cope with the least amount of effort or responsibility in today's litigious society. I understand that to some extent, but I also fault OPS for not displaying reason, and for wasting an opportunity to teach a little common sense. People sue cigarette makers because they smoke and get cancer. People sue gun manufacturers because a criminal shoots someone, or maybe even because a loved on kills himself. People sue McDonald's because they spilled hot coffee on themselves. Where does it stop? It stops when OPS expels a high school kid with a buck knife, and not a 6-year-old with some ordinary flatware. It stops when parents are not allowed to hold schools responsible for raising their children, only for some (emphasis on "some") of their childrens' education. And when the courts decide that common sense should prevail, and refuse to hear frivolous lawsuits.

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