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Schools on a Power Trip

Posted July 15, 2009, 12:43 a.m.

I don’t really understand why, but public schools in this country often seem to think they have far more power than they rightfully should have. They declare themselves the arbiters of what medications students take, what students write in their newspapers, when students urinate, what students wear, what students put on their private web sites, and more. Meanwhile, most indicators show that our educational system lags compared to those in other countries and, anecdotally, it’s deteriorating year-to-year.

Well, just when you thought the misguided power trip couldn’t get any worse, now we have schools policing the activities of adults at private parties.

Frederick County Public Schools here in Virginia terminated the employment of Brad Young, a beloved softball coach. Young held a private post-season cookout and pool party at his home, which he has done in past years, and invited his softball team and their parents. At least one parent brought some beers, and they were consumed by parents. None of the kids were offered any alcohol and, indeed, Young didn’t consume any either. The school system, however, declared the event to be a school function and declared the presence of alcohol (which, I reiterate, was brought to the party by parents) as being in violation of the system’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Of course, what if the party had been held at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant? There’s alcohol there. What if the coach had beer in his fridge but didn’t serve it at all during the party? Is that a violation of the zero tolerance policy? Perhaps the school should suspend any student who has been within 300 feet of alcohol in the last six months if being near alcohol is such a dire threat to their academic success (since academic success is, supposedly, what this is all about, right?).

Look, schools have a responsibility to protect their students . . . but only when those students are in their custody. Even then, parents retain primary authority (which is why parents, not schools, have the right to decide what medications their children take and when). Schools have limited custodial authority during the school day, but that authority does not usurp parental authority. Outside of school, schools have no authority whatsoever over their pupils. Period.

I don’t think, based on the information in the article, that this was even a school event. If it’s not a school event, then by definition the presence of alcohol cannot be in violation of a rule governing school events. Even if it was a school event, the alcohol was brought by parents whose authority with regard to the safety of their children trumps school policy. Even more fundamentally, the coach didn’t bring the alcohol anyway and, even if he had, the alcohol was never available to the kids. There is nothing actionable here, and Young should be immediately reinstated.

Enough is enough. Our public schools need to focus on education, not micromanaging the lives of their students and employees. Schools’ temporary custodial authority only extends while students are in the building or at a school event, and it is wholly secondary to the authority of students’ parents. I have said it many times before, and I’ll continue saying it: if our schools put half as much effort into quality education as they do into ‘big brother’ style hyper-disciplinarianism, we would probably have a world-class education system in this country.

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Posted in Articles, Opinion

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.