Friday, January 11, 2008

High School Musingsville

In the most precise sense, perhaps this should not be considered a schedenfreud moment. It comes darn close, though.

There is a difference, after all, between illegal driving after drinking to excess and illegal drug use. Both are crimes and both can be just as deadly. But Pensacola's school district policy, justifiably or not, gives drunk driving teachers a second (or even a third) chance and none at all for drug offenses, however minor.

Rules are rules. Still, what other than the whiff of rank hypocrisy accounts for the venom these students and parents are expressing about Escambia County School Superintendent's arrest?

They know how unyielding and self-righteous he was when it came to another person's "mistake." They doubtless expect, now that the handcuffs are on other wrists, that Ron JimPaul suddenly will be pleading for mercy and understanding about his own lapse.

Other than the school district's draconian "zero-tolerance" policy for ingesting one kind of mind-altering substance and not another, there's no real difference between the two cases. Former Woodham High School coach and teacher Benny Washington didn't contest that he was caught with a small amount of "cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia in his vehicle." By pleading no contest, technically, he may never be convicted of any crime. But he lost his teaching job anyway.

Escambia County School Superintendent Jim Paul came down hard on Washington by demanding he be fired or resign with a public confession that effectively bars him from reemployment. He also likely will not be contesting his own arrest for drunk driving. And he probably won't be convicted of any crime, either.

But Paul, you can be sure, won't resign his elected post. Instead, it's nearly a dead certainty he'll soon be begging for forgiveness from voters. Too bad for him that he couldn't find an equal measure of charity when it came to Benny Washington.

The real issue, as we see it, transcends these two individuals and any implications of hypocrisy. Alcohol and drug abuse are terrible things to see anyone suffer, and hardly less so when it happens to educators whom we rightly expect to set an example for young people. As one expert has pointed out at some length, however, "zero tolerance" policies do not work in society at large because "drug abuse and addiction are medical problems, not criminal justice problems... . "

There is no reason to believe a "zero-tolerance" policy -- whether for drugs or alcohol abuse -- is any more effective or rational as a school district employment policy than it is as a policy governing student enrollment. There are gradations to such offenses. There can be important individual differences among offenders.

Sometimes a child or a teacher -- or even a school district superintendent -- needs counseling and treatment, not umbrageous moralizing and one-size-fits-all punitive consequences. The objective remains to prevent to the maximum extent possible drug and alcohol abuse by teachers and students.

We hope Superintendent Jim Paul's arrest serves to inspire the school board to take a closer, more objective look at all of its drug and alcohol policies to see just where they have gone wrong.


Anonymous said...

There is another difference. One man is white. The other is black. Not that Pensacola is racist or anything.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what Ron Paul has to do with this???