Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Appealing high school suspension?
January 18, 2013 12:33 AM   Subscribe

Brother suspended for three days from his high school in California, due to 1. "racist comments"- from an off colour joke and 2. refusing to tell an officer his name. Is the disciplinary action taken equivalent to his behavior? How can we go about appealing it,if so? More details inside.

I got a call from my mother earlier about my younger brother. He's a 14 year old freshman in high school, and apparently, at lunch, he made an off color joke regarding a part of town. A staff member passed by and overheard his comments. Said staff member informed the on campus police officer in the vicinity, and the officer approached my brother, asking him what his name was. With the intention of invoking the Fifth Amendment, my brother refused to give him his name. He was taken to the office, and sentenced to three days of off campus suspension, beginning tomorrow. The sheet of paper explaining the offenses states, "Racial comments, refused to give officer name".

I've done a bit of research, and according to the school district's site, a parent has the right to appeal an expulsion. I would assume that appealing a suspension, the second most serious disciplinary action, would be plausible too. How would my parents go about it? (Their English is not the best, which is the reason for my involvement) I advised them to call the dean of discipline (although suspension appears to be signed off by the principal) and ask for a meeting discussing the punishment.

Would this be an ideal path of action to take? Or should my parents just..let it go? We find that the suspension is quite severe for an inappropriate joke made by a 14 year old boy in private conversation.

If a meeting is scheduled, most likely I suspect it'd be after the suspension is served. Would there be any hope of erasing the marks on his record? Or will "racist comments" be on it for future colleges to see? And not telling the police officer your name- that's a school offense?
posted by flying_trapeze to Education (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good to know: he has been sent home for the day once, after saying "Damn" in the lunch line.
posted by flying_trapeze at 12:37 AM on January 18, 2013


I would be very surprised if a public school handed a disciplinary record to a college. Grades, yes; expulsions and suspensions, no.
posted by zippy at 12:49 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


We find that the suspension is quite severe for an inappropriate joke made by a 14 year old boy in private conversation.

I'd let it go. It may have been a "private" conversation but it was in a school the lunchroom and apparently loud enough to be overheard by passers by. That's totally not okay. Hopefully your brother will learn: 1) That when other people can hear you, that is not private; 2) that racist remarks, even in jest, are never okay; 3) That failures of judgement have repercussions; 4) What the Fifth Amendment actually says and why it didn't apply to his interaction with school security.

Not necessarily in that order.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:03 AM on January 18, 2013 [57 favorites]


Yeah. I really wish someone had made it clear to me that, grades and test scores aside, what happens in high school has pretty much zero bearing on one's future. I'd let it be a learning experience. Colleges won't find out.
posted by piedmont at 1:31 AM on January 18, 2013


Nobody is going to care about the marks on his record. Just take the three days off and consider it a lesson learned.
posted by empath at 1:37 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Appealing it will just make everything more tense and unpleasant for him, I am sure. Does he (and your parents) really want to battle the school over this, especially when it sounds like he probably did say something offensive and then act defiant toward school staff? The punishment sounds justified. He should let it go since it really doesn't matter whatsoever and learn a lesson from it. The main lesson being that no one should be making racist jokes in public places, especially a high school lunch room. Anyone can overhear you and find it offensive/hurtful/classless/disrespectful/ignorant; not just racial minorities -- anyone. Even if you are having a "private" conversation and don't see any people around who would presumably be the butt of such a joke, it doesn't matter.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:19 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


With the intention of invoking the Fifth Amendment, my brother refused to give him his name

Your brother may find Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada interesting reading.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:24 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Invoking the Fifth Amendment in school, to a high school-sanctioned campus officer is both dickish and stupid (they're going to figure out who you are anyhow). Racist jokes are dickish as well. Making them loudly, in the presence of personnel whose job it is to monitor behavior, is also just stupid. So by my calculations, that's two counts of stupidity and two counts of dickishness - I would have suspended him a day for each count, so he got off easy.

The suspension will not follow him out of high school, so what point would you be making in an appeal - that racism, stupidity and disrespect do not deserve punishment? You don't specify what he said exactly, but it could probably be considered an aspect of bullying, which is generally rationalized along some lines of somebody being "different," so things like race play into that. Not to mention the fact that it is unlikely this 14-year old has accomplished enough of anything in life to be making fun of how people are in another part of town anyhow. I'd take away his allowance and teddy bear too, and make him do chores during his whole suspension. This isn't the first time his mouth has gotten him in trouble, and while these events are earth-shattering, they don't indicate a lot of sense or maturity, and so I don't know why you'd want to enable him.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:34 AM on January 18, 2013 [29 favorites]


I applied to college two years ago and remember the common app used by most colleges as asking about suspensions.
posted by likethenight at 2:38 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Fifth Amendment doesn't mean that he can refuse to identify himself, it means that he doesn't have to incriminate himself by confessing to some misdeed. He probably got three days this time for a couple reasons: it's a second offense for basically the same reason as the first (failure to learn to watch his language), plus his antagonizing the officer ensured he got the book thrown at him. Let him serve the suspension, it's not a huge thing considering this is a second offence.

(Oh, and you call his comment an "off-color joke" --- racism is NOT merely "off-color", it is OFFENSIVE, INSULTING AND HURTFUL. "Off-color" jokes are usually slightly dirty jokes; racist jokes are RACIST, and are never okay.)
posted by easily confused at 2:39 AM on January 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


The joke was stupid, but he's working on his self control. He's always hard enough on himself as is after these incidents, but they do happen occasionally.

To fulfill your curiosity, it was about people's responses to yelling Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day in an area characterized as the backwaters of our city, supposedly populated by only racist white people. This is of course an incorrect view, but it's a stereotype that hasn't died. (As for racism, we are people of color, and my parents have made sure to raise us with knowledge of power structures and institutionalized racism IE by housing options)

We don't condone or enable his behavior. He's a considerate and exceptionally intelligent kid who, for various reasons, struggles with identifying what's appropriate for conversation or not, and always has. Other people don't know that, and just view him as insensitive as his comments. He did not initially realize how his comment was racist, and actually refused to tell me it after the incident, ashamed of it.

My parents won't be seeking further action, as their main motivation was in preventing this suspension from hindering future opportunities. It may, but no use anticipating it.
posted by flying_trapeze at 2:59 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally I'd be more interested to know why in the world a non-threatening off-color comment was reported to a police offer who was presumably assigned to the school to police something other than hurt feelings. That strikes me as an absurd overreaction and a sign that the school administrators have abdicated important responsibilities.

On that basis, I would expect any meeting to be full of the usual zero-tolerance crap and devoid of nuance. I don't think this incident and the reaction will have any real consequences (permanent records don't exist) but I would keep a careful eye on any other proposed disciplinary proceedings that involved your brother even tangentially.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:19 AM on January 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


In my public high school in Massachusetts in the early 1980s, that would have been a light punishment for those actions.

Yes, it's weird that schools use police resource officers as uniformed lunchroom monitors when they're not actually policing, but that's what happens.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:39 AM on January 18, 2013


Regardless of his own lack of control--and I can only assume he's a teenager, in which case it's hardly atypical--the school sounds a bit over-reactionary. Saying "damn" in a lunch line at my high school in the late 90s would have gotten you a dirty look or a verbal smack on the wrist at most.

Some schools do put suspensions/expulsions on the transcripts that get sent to college. I don't know if it's all schools. I very much doubt the college cares unless it's a serious pattern and/or recent. Of course, I'm not involved with college admissions, so take this with a grain of salt, but I wouldn't be too worried.
posted by asciident at 4:04 AM on January 18, 2013


The joke was stupid, but he's working on his self control. He's always hard enough on himself as is after these incidents, but they do happen occasionally.

It seems to me that since he apparently has a history for poor self control and problems with authority, there were probably good reasons as to why the school pulled him out. I've got kids in high school and schools are much more proactive now about off-color remarks and behaviour in school then they were back in the day. There are all sorts of reasons for it. And yes they have unformed school resource officers in most high schools now.

We don't condone or enable his behavior. He's a considerate and exceptionally intelligent kid who, for various reasons, struggles with identifying what's appropriate for conversation or not, and always has. Other people don't know that, and just view him as insensitive as his comments. He did not initially realize how his comment was racist, and actually refused to tell me it after the incident, ashamed of it.

Maybe he/your family should get help through the guidance department or wherever in the school to help him in the future for college applications.

BTW the common app does ask about discipline and suspension problems in high school.
posted by lasamana at 4:49 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is is lunacy.
Being reported to the school officer, for an off color joke? Many, many kids would be suspended across the country, daily. This sounds like an over zealous officer, and he/she should be asked to explain his choice of escalation.

Do your brother a huge favor, and fight the school and do not accept a suspension. Being suspended has psychological ramifications, and causes some kids to increase in their negative behavior, because they've already taken a "first hit" on their record.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:27 AM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


What do you mean, yelling "Happy Martin Luther King Day!" in a bad neighborhood? Did he do that? Was he trying to make the point that Martin Luther King Day is a hilarious holiday and he wanted to see what reaction he'd get? Being a person of color doesn't give him a free pass for racism(??) And that's not exactly an "oops! I really didn't mean it!" sort of a move. It sounds like more of a "Wow, it's soooo funny to make fun of black historical figures publicly!" sort of a move. How is that not cut and dry racism?

Also, when I try to make a mental picture of a high school student being asked, "What's your name?" by a police officer and the student telling him, "I plead the fifth amendment" it just doesn't sound either considerate or exceptionally intelligent to me. He may well be both of those things, but it would probably be of service to him not to undermine whatever of those good character traits he has by reinforcing this ridiculous behavior.
posted by mermily at 5:34 AM on January 18, 2013


What do you mean, yelling "Happy Martin Luther King Day!" in a bad neighborhood? Did he do that? Was he trying to make the point that Martin Luther King Day is a hilarious holiday and he wanted to see what reaction he'd get? Being a person of color doesn't give him a free pass for racism(??) And that's not exactly an "oops! I really didn't mean it!" sort of a move. It sounds like more of a "Wow, it's soooo funny to make fun of black historical figures publicly!" sort of a move. How is that not cut and dry racism?

If you'll review the OP's in-thread response, you'll see that this was not what occurred.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:50 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


He's a considerate and exceptionally intelligent kid who, for various reasons, struggles with identifying what's appropriate for conversation or not, and always has. Other people don't know that, and just view him as insensitive as his comments.

Okay, I'm not American, so maybe I'm missing some nuances here, but...to make your language more straightforward: you're saying he's really smart, but can't tell whether something's offensive or not? Well, part of being smart is figuring that out, and that's what the school is trying to teach him.

Let him suck it up and learn to not be arrogant and obstructive. Any 14-year-old who refuses to give his name to a police officer can probably do with a lesson in humility.
posted by Salamander at 5:55 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you'll review the OP's in-thread response, you'll see that this was not what occurred.

Thanks, you're right. To the OP, sorry, I didn't mean to jump on you. It seems I misread. Probably wasn't a brilliant move on your brother's part, but not on par with what I was saying before in terms of how bad it was.
posted by mermily at 5:55 AM on January 18, 2013


Many kids are suspended for making racist jokes, and for refusing to give their names to school staff who are disciplining them, Kruger5.

There could certainly be a discussion about whether that's appropriate, and whether it's a good use of police resource officers to enforce school civility policies, but the OP's question wasn't about those things.

A three-day suspension is probably an average punishment for that sequence of events in most US public schools.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:58 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to chime in.

I worked in a very rough high school and if you can hear something in the lunch room above the regular din, the 'joke' wasn't private--at all.

Typically in the lunch room there might be a school officer, or it might simply have been a member of the security staff. It's possible that the situation escallated. Security may have been there to tell your brother, "Hey, knock it off," and that might have been the end of it. But because your brother then started playing games with the officer, in front of a VERY large audience, that's when the whole thing escallated.

We all know about DWB, while I HATE that it happens, the one thing I used to tell my students was: "Don't fail the attitude test."

This is about staying out of jail, and perhaps alive. No, the cops shouldn't be harrassing you, but for fuck's sake, don't antagonize them. If you're asked by an authority figure, be as polite as possible and give the information they're asking for. Once the interaction is over, you can report the officer to the police department and make a complaint, but you'll be out of jail and alive to do it.

Your brother may have been one day in Internal Suspension for the racist comment, but by being an asshole to the officer he blew it up into a 3-day External Suspension.

As for maintaining control of 2000 teenagers, YES, you have to be strict, because if you aren't, then they'll mob up and trash the place. No officer is going to back down in front of the other kids, and no good administrator will 'let it go'.

I left teaching because I couldn't deal with the levels of disrespectful behavior that were allowed to go unpunished at my school.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on January 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


I would fight the school. It sounds like your brother was having a nuanced discussion, including some of his own hyperbole, that was misinterpreted by the police monitoring the lunch room. What other commenters may be overlooking is that POC can use appropriative language that is offensive to white ears, but it's not the business of white people to police it. It pains me to hear that your parents have a language barrier to fighting this for him. It absolutely sounds like a civil rights issue. Perhaps you could contact the ACLU and see if they have more micro-level resources for students' rights.

As for college transcripts, I started college in 1998. My applications asked about suspensions and expulsions. I'd been through my own horror show with leaving a religious school that was homophobic (I left to keep from being expelled, after being hounded by the administration). I had explaining to do -- but it ultimately worked out in my favor, as I was applying to very liberal schools and was already very out. From what I have heard, records follow you more strictly now (the presence of actual police on campus means many students are graduating with criminal records!). You are right to be concerned about the impact of repeated disciplinary action on your brother's future. Even some of my grad school applications asked about any past academic discipline! It followed me.

Another thought: if these impulse control problems are persistent, does your brother need help with something or could he be helped by psychological testing or testing for developmental/learning disabilities? If nothing else, students who have documented learning/developmental disabilities (e.g. Aspergers, ADD) can often get more leeway from the powers that be.
posted by sweltering at 6:04 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Okay, I'm not American, so maybe I'm missing some nuances here, but... Let him suck it up and learn to not be arrogant and obstructive. Any 14-year-old who refuses to give his name to a police officer can probably do with a lesson in humility.

American policing is prone to being... problematic... in specific cities and towns, and even outside of those locations to being fraught with issues within schools. This is even more true for young men who are not white.

The OP's brother might actually be best served by learning what his actual rights and legal obligations are as a juvenile both on and off school property, as well as some education in dealing effectively and with self-preservation with officers when confronted.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:06 AM on January 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wait, hold the phone...you're saying that your brother, who is a POC child of immigrants, was suspended for three days for saying something like "those crackers in Neighborhood X would probably flip out and say [inappropriate thing] if we went over there and wished them happy MLK day"? So at least part of the "racist comment" was 'racist' about white people? And your brother has been in trouble before for saying "damn"?

Okay, I am not at your school and I don't know what your brother's general affect is - it could be that even if he's a basically a delightful kid he's going through a bratty and obnoxious stage and pushing the envelope with teachers and staff. I mean, if that's the case I still think a three day suspension that has to be reported on the common application is way overboard, but it's hard to argue that some consequences are inappropriate.

But I would be interested to know the race of most of the administration and whether white kids are disciplined at the same rate for the same kinds of things. And if part of this whole mess was "he said something racist about white people", I totally totally frown on a heavy disciplinary reaction to that.
posted by Frowner at 6:06 AM on January 18, 2013 [32 favorites]


Frowner really hits the nail on the head about what has made me squirm about this and what's potentially objectionable about the punishment. Yeah, it's a racist-ass world out there as DarlingBri has noted (and defying a police officer outside school is much more dangerous), but that's no excuse for racism inside a public school. When I was battling my school and trying to seal my records, a local children's rights group helped me -- I had my own lawyer when I was 14 (called a guardian ad litem). It was free and through a non-profit organization. A quick google shows that children's rights in public schools change from state to state and there doesn't appear to be any central organization. If you want to see if there's such an advocacy group near you, I suggest googling "children's rights [your state]"

A tangent, but an important one. Advice so far about the police is... mixed. You might want to educate your brother about future police encounters after this mixup. I find Know Your Rights at the ACLU to be really informative, especially coupled with the attached videos.
posted by sweltering at 6:28 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Many kids are suspended for making racist jokes, and for refusing to give their names to school staff who are disciplining them, Kruger5. 

Sidehedevil: you missed a crucial point here, what happens "everywhere" doesn't make it acceptable here. The punishment should fit the crime, and the school is not the sole executor of discipline (the parents, family play just as important a role when it comes to kids and minors).

OP, MeMail me if you want particular advice on how to fight the suspension. I do not say he shouldn't have some punishment, but not suspension.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:28 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


What DarlingBri and Frowner said, and see this article (NYT) from a couple days ago about the ACLU and the Feds coming down hard on Mississippi schools for inappropriate suspensions and arrests of students of color. You may want to get in touch with your state's ACLU or NAACP chapters (even if you're not black, yes) to see if they have any stats on suspensions/arrests in your brother's school district. The path from school to the criminal justice system can be remarkably short and direct if you are the wrong color and/or class.
posted by rtha at 6:32 AM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


flying_trapeze, if you want to detail the exact remark, your brother's race and the officer's race, it might help clarify things because people are reaching conclusions here based on data that doesn't seem to actually be in the thread.

Alternatively, none of this is any of our business and we can all wish you luck and shut the hell up.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:34 AM on January 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


I applied to college two years ago and remember the common app used by most colleges as asking about suspensions.

As I recall (I applied to college in 2003/2004), in-school suspensions didn't count. I recall my friend, who had a long history of in school suspensions for fighting ending his freshman year, being first worried and then relieved about this. I don't know if this was the common app's distinction or some policy my school made up. Anyway, if your brother is lucky enough to have a guidance counselor or a teacher on his side, they might be able to argue for an in-school suspension in the hopes of fewer headaches down the road. At a guess, I would suspect an ally within the school would have better luck than you or your parents.

On the other hand, the UC application doesn't ask about suspensions, I dont think. Either because they expect it to show up on transcripts or because they're not interested. (I think they must not be interested. As you may know, they ask everything under the sun. The most memorable part of the UC application for me was where it asks for the exact date your parent(s) entered the US, as applicable. It was always interesting to find out whose parents actually knew offhand, who looked it up and whose parents picked a random approximately correct date.)
posted by hoyland at 6:39 AM on January 18, 2013


Couple points that people in this thread are wrong about / have not mentioned.

I was suspended in high school and went in to appeal. We went in and talked to the superintendent and the penalty was dropped from 3 days to 1 day (i.e., I went back to school the following day.)

It did show up in various places.

1) I applied for a scholarship with the NSA, and had to record that it happened.

2) My application to MIT had a section for "disciplinary actions" where I listed it, and the MIT admissions office called my guidance counselor to clarify. I actually do think this is because I included the suspension in the disciplinary action box, but the school didn't send anything, so they were calling for clarification.

In both cases, it wasn't an issue (still flew out for NSA interviews, still got into MIT), but it definitely was noted. Now, my suspension was for "hacking" and not a racist joke, so I don't know how that would affect anything.

The point is: lessening the punishment didnt matter for me at all (except I could go back to school earlier, which was helpful for school work), but just the fact that it occurred did show up later in life.
posted by losvedir at 6:39 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


the kid is being disciplined for disrespecting school staff (in this case the officer) more then the comment itself. by not telling the school cop the kid committed the crime of obstructing justice. that is a serious matter for both the school and police.

as a parent who has had their kid suspended multiple times my advice is to let the matter go. there isn't an easy way out of this--the kid is, in fact, guilty. what will happen though is that the school will take your request and have it go through the process. being like any other bureaucracy it will take a day or two before the hearing will actually take place. meanwhile the kid will not be in school.

if, by chance, the suspension is reversed the only thing that's different is that the suspension is changed to an excused absence. that may give him a bit more time to do the makeup work but the kid will still be behind in class. but, from the evidence indicated here, the suspension will not be reversed.

better to teach the kid how to deal with authority figures. arguing a lost cause in a administrative hearing isn't going to do that much and will most likely be disappointing.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:48 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would fight the "racist speech" part, but not the fighting authority part. The suspension will following him to college and potential scholarships.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:56 AM on January 18, 2013


With the intention of invoking the Fifth Amendment, my brother refused to give him his name.

He does not have any right to do that. No one does. Further, students in school have fewer civil rights than adults do. To search one's person or property in a normal setting, the state needs probable cause. To search a student's person or property in school, school officials only need a "moderate chance" of discovering something. When the officer asked your brother's name, your brother was required to give it. End of story. Improperly invoking civil rights in this context amounts to mouthing off.

As such, though you can try to fight this, it's going to be difficult. The kid's attitude with the officer has compounded whatever the merits of the initial "infraction" may be. So he's got two independent separate things to deal with: making allegedly off-color comments, and being a punk. Even if the former is being handled badly, the latter is going to make that hard to rectify.

by not telling the school cop the kid committed the crime of obstructing justice.

This is almost certainly not the case. Obstruction of justice is a very serious crime and generally attaches to things like giving false information to law enforcement, destroying evidence, or otherwise actively interfering with a criminal investigation. This is not that.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


by not telling the school cop the kid committed the crime of obstructing justice.

No, he did not.

there isn't an easy way out of this--the kid is, in fact, guilty

Of what?

Was there an arrest? Was there an indictment? Was there a trial? Was there a conviction or a guilty plea? The answer to all of the above is "No", and it's absurd to pretend otherwise simply because the kid said something a school employee didn't like and the school inappropriately punted the matter to a police officer to increase the intimidation factor in the school's punishment process.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:00 AM on January 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


Kruger5, you said "if this happened, it would happen every day". My point is that it does happen every day. It certainly shouldn't happen every day. But the local school board or whoever the appeal would go to isn't automatically going to see this as outrageous.

And flying_trapeze said his family were people of color, not that they were black. If Brother Trapeze is a member of a ethnic/racial group among which there are students who are believed by the school administration to be in conflict with black students (especially if the administration is energized however appropriately or inappropriately about gangs, which seems to be the current state of affairs in much of California), the administration is going to discipline comments they parse as anti-black racism from Asian or Latino students pretty seriously. Perhaps even more seriously than from white students, which is shitty racism in and of itself, so maybe a good angle if the brother does appeal.

(I may be misinterpreting how f_t described his brother's account of the incident, but what it sounded like to me was that the brother was mocking anti-MLK Day white racists in the persona of a white racist and someone thought the words Brother Trapeze was saying were meant seriously.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:11 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


In addition to going to the school guidance staff for help, which was a great suggestion made upthread, does your family have a clergy member who can intervene on your brother's behalf? Or an aunt or uncle who is more fluent in English or more comfortable dealing with US officialdom?

Because although I think this is sadly usual, now that I hear about the weight it's given on college apps these days, it seems prudent to pursue whatever avenues of appeal are open.

(I was suspended from school a lot, almost always for skipping classes---yeah, the logic of that kind of boggles the mind---and it so wasn't a big deal to the Ivies in those days that I wasn't even asked about it once, but things are different now, so go for it.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:19 AM on January 18, 2013


Another suggestion is to ask a city councillor or equivalent to intervene, particularly one who draws heavy support among your family's ethnic/racial group.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is kind of a complicated problem, but whatever you decide to do, you have a pretty amazing learning experience here. If you decide to appeal, I definitely agree with involving your brother in any research you do on stats, reaching out to the NAACP, etc. And if you don't, it could be really interesting to spend the three days maybe interviewing social-justice activists in your area, visiting some museums that deal with related topics, and so on. Something weird happened in the intersection of your brother and the school structure, and there are good arguments on both sides why things went down the way they did, and there are social structures that are going to be present for his whole life which he could certainly understand better, navigate better, and become more empowered to change. It's also possible there are endemic problems in the school that can be brought to light, not in an atagonistic way, but in a 'let's work to make things better' way.

On one part I admire the school for attending to and responding to racially charged remarks of any kind, even mild jokes, and taking them seriously. If my high school had done that, we might have had a more respectful atmosphere and less hallway fights. On the other hand, I would want to be sure that such remarks were responded to in the same manner regardless of who they came from. And I would be interested in why the police officer was the one to respond. What about their charter with the school makes that a logical place to start? What other choices were available to the faculty who heard the remark? Is a law enforcement officer always supposed to follow up on these things?

Finally, your brother's behavior to the officer- don't forget to examine that, because it wasn't helpful. First, he doesn't understand the 5th amendment, so review that with him. A lot of high school students getting their first serious exposure to civics feel empowered by it, but don't realize that they can't easily make a broad application of their Constitutional "rights" to school rules and do whatever they want. Second, setting up a combative relationship with a law officer is just never smart. Maybe there's a way you can help him get to know and understand the role of the officer better, or even talk to that officer or someone else about school policing and what they're concerned about. That all depends, obviously, on how cool that officer is and what other constraints are going on. That's not to cover over the chronic issues of community policing and cultural difference, but to look at them more closely.

And then put it all on This American Life. Or maybe not. But what you have here, framed right, is a really interesting learning opportunity that opens up a window into racial and institutional discourse in America, and I think it would be much richer treated that way, without demonizing anyone, than just viewed as something unfair to be fought \. Even if you also fight it, which given the college implications (and his tender age) I think you should. I would be surprised if you could not work out a deal involving an apology from your brother.
posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


School Board member here. Before we can really make any comments on what was said, we need to know exactly what was said, and we'd need to see the school policies on offensive speech, bullying, and identifying yourself to school personnel.

As a general thing, NO ONE in a school building (student, staff, or visitor) has a right to NOT identify themselves to school authorities. It is a safety issue, and one that courts are on board with.

As for the off-color language itself, it's difficult to say without knowing exactly what he said. However, my district, like many districts, applies a standardized set of punishments to student offenses. If your district's discipline policy says "Racist speech: 3 days," then this is completely in line. If it says "Racist speech: 1-5 days" then we've got some discussing and appealing. In general, the issue isn't whether the three days is "a lot" for this offense (or set of offenses) generally, but whether consequences of this magnitude are consistently and fairly applied across the district for similar events (that are observed by or reported to school personnel ... of course students "get away" with stuff every day that isn't overheard or reported).

Appealing the suspension certainly can't hurt. I would attempt to appeal it from three days to one day, arguing that while your brother did wrong, in these specific circumstances it wasn't that bad because ____. As the Board, we read the appeals and either say, "No, it totally warranted 3 days" or "Yeah, 3 days seems a bit excessive, we'll knock it down to 1." We don't have any emotional involvement in it, and it doesn't make us feel any animosity towards the student. (Really, if you're appealing a suspension, you've done something so MINOR compared to most things that come to the school board, and you clearly have involved parents.) If the suspension is successfully appealed, it IS removed from his record EVEN THOUGH he has already served it -- and generally this also means that he can turn in any work he missed for full marks and is not academically penalized for those days missed. Finally, suspensions (and other disciplinary actions) go through the roof in the 9th grade year because kids have trouble with the transition to high school; if he stays out of trouble for the rest of his high school career, he will be just one among many, many students with a minor disciplinary mark from his freshman year. I would definitely find out how this appears on the transcript, however, when reported to colleges -- "3 day suspension, inappropriate language and refusal to identify himself to security officer" is a lot better than "3 day suspension, racist language etc."

However, my larger concern here is that this is the second time he's been in trouble for controlling impulsive language. (I feel like I should say "and also that he seems unaware of the rules in the school and legitimate authority of school officials," but I actually don't find that concerning at all, I mostly find it amusing and age-appropriate, but probably you want to deal with it and make sure he knows the school rules and isn't tweaking authority when he's not going to win.)

"We don't condone or enable his behavior. He's a considerate and exceptionally intelligent kid who, for various reasons, struggles with identifying what's appropriate for conversation or not, and always has. Other people don't know that, and just view him as insensitive as his comments. He did not initially realize how his comment was racist, and actually refused to tell me it after the incident, ashamed of it. "

This is a point I would make in any appeal, but, as a larger point, I would make this point to the Dean of Discipline and whoever else you talk to about this. If you think this may be an ongoing problem that you have to continue to address, you want the school authorities on board with you as your partner in this. If they are aware that this is a problem for him that he is actively working on, with his family's support, and the school's knowledge and support, he may get off a lot more lightly in the future. His teachers may, for example, pull him aside and let him know when his language is getting close to crossing lines. Depending on your district, it's possible they may erase the suspension if your brother goes on a "behavior contract" that's intended to address the behavior problem for a probationary period; if he is successful, they remove it. But a behavior contract, which spells out what the student's responsibilities and rights are, and what school staff and family will do to support him in it, may be a good idea anyway and help with this larger issue.

Finally, you don't say how limited your parents' English is or if it's a common language in the district, but it's possible the district may have to provide you with a translator.

Feel free to memail me if you want me to take a look at your school's policies and the specific language your brother used.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:03 AM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd like to point out that we only have what is told to OP by her brother and she has yet to meet with the school. I suspect when that meeting takes place other details will be given. Most schools have a no tolerance policy to language and behavior. Esp. in light of school violence and school bullying.

mule98j - I don't the school is being mindlessly authoritarian. It's been my experience schools are super careful about how they approach certain matters regarding behaviour within and on the school property. Schools function much differently then they did even 20 yrs ago due to the changing nature of social media and how parents perceive the safety of their kids.

Also keep in mind he's a freshman, for him to pull a long suspension right off the bat doesn't bode well for his reputation going forward regardless of whether or not the school behaved correctly. I also go back to his behaviour had already been a problem - the OP acknowledges this is not his first incident. I'm a person of color and my kids are mixed and that doesn't excuse them from behaving like an ass if questioned in school.
posted by lasamana at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Is the disciplinary action taken equivalent to his behavior? How can we go about appealing it,if so?

If I wanted to find this out for my kids' schools, I would go to the school district's website (not the individual school's, the district's), click on "District," then "Policy Manual," then download a PDF of "Student's Rights and Responsibilities." All the answers would be in there.

Obviously your district isn't going to be exactly like mine, but poking around their website should lead you to the right handbook. I'm surprised the school didn't give your brother a printed copy of it when they suspended him.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:20 AM on January 18, 2013


Yes, check the student handbook / code of conduct. Not identifying yourself to a staff member (incl. the SRO) alone, not to mention the inappropriate language, is probably specifically in there. Start by knowing what the exact policy is before wanting to appeal.
posted by lysimache at 12:31 PM on January 18, 2013


If he's having ongoing problems with impulse control and/or offensiveness that don't seem to make sense with his intelligence level, it's worth getting him screened for ADHD and Aspergers' Syndrome. It sort of broke my heart a little bit to hear how bad he felt about what he said. Hopefully it's a minor problem that he grows out of, but if not, it's better to know about what's going on so he can get help before his self-esteem takes too much of a hit.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:19 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


perhaps i was stretching it a little to call it obstruction of justice, inspector, however i will point out that the OP said the kid refused to identify himself to the cop which i am certain was a violation of school rules and a major factor in the suspension.

trying to argue out of it now--after the guilt has been plainly stated and acknowledged--is a waste of time. you can argue semantics and reasons and whatever but the school will not care. the op and the kid's parent's are much better focusing on how to deal with situations like this in the future. it doesn't matter that this all started with a bullshit reason. once the kid refused to identify himself to the cop he lost.

i suppose there could another lesson to be learned by the kid as he watches his parents and relatives fight this unsuccessfully.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:07 PM on January 18, 2013


About the racist joke that started this whole thing: it doesn't really matter what race the OP and their brother are: making racist jokes is wrong. It is just as wrong for a person of color --- any color --- to make racist jokes about white people as it is for white people to make racist jokes about people of (any) color.

You say you don't condone or enable his behavior..... well then, the boy needs to take his lumps and learn exactly that: failure to control his mouth and attitude = consequences that include suspension.
posted by easily confused at 6:12 AM on January 19, 2013


rope-rider, you were spot on: my brother has been attending counseling for around a month. He told his counselor about this incident, and apparently all the signs added up; she recommended he get screened for autism spectrum disorders. He went to his first screening today, and definitely has been identified as being on the spectrum. He has to attend another screening by a specialist to see where specifically, and what disorder.

My parents do not know what autism is, so this is a whole new journey.
posted by flying_trapeze at 12:20 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


flying_trapeze, I am glad to hear that he has gotten an appropriate screening.

At this point, I would definitely talk to his counselor and/or the school about having the suspension waived, reduced, or taken off of his record. From where I'm sitting, it seems that his behavior might have been at least partially the result of his disability, which would make it inappropriate to punish him.

And yes, schools do ask about suspensions and it does affect their admissions decisions. I served very briefly on an admissions panel, and it is taken into account. At the very least, you might ask that a letter about the incident being related to his disorder be placed in his file along with the report about the incident and suspension, so instead of just "oh yes, racist comments" it should be on his record as something like "inadvertently inappropriate comments due to disability". Just "racist comments" is really bad to have in his file and most importantly, not accurate about who your brother is and how he really sees the world.

The approach I would take with the school is this: certainly, he should be taught to be cooperative with the school security officers, but punishing someone one the autism spectrum for unwittingly saying something inappropriate is cruel. He will be unwittingly saying things that are more or less inappropriate for his whole life, because that is what having a social deficit means, and punishing him for it (instead of educating and supporting him) is counterproductive to the goal of having him be a responsible, healthy member of the school community.

I would then suggest an alternate "punishment" (really an educational tool) in the form of a short essay written by your brother, explaining what he will do the next time a school official or officer tells him he has said or done something inappropriate. He, unfortunately, was doing something that is typical of people on the autism spectrum, which is applying rules to a situation without realizing that the context means that those rules don't apply. It's much easier for you and I to adjust rules to different contexts (police arresting you vs school safety officer approaching you) than it is for your brother. That is why educating him about the rules specific to the school context is important and would be an appropriate consequence for his behavior. It could be a more grown-up version of a social story that you can work on together, or that he can work on with the guidance counselor at the school. Teaching him the rules of dealing with the school safety officers would be much more productive than punishing him with a suspension, but it's probably punitive seeming enough for the discipline-types at his school to be okay with.

Likewise, you can ask that the school safety officers be trained in handling students on the autism spectrum.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:05 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I do think you should be assertive with the school. Polite, pleasant, willing to work with them, yes, but also assertive in standing up for your brother's rights as a person with a disability. For more information, the search terms you can use are high-functioning autism (or HFA) or Asperger's syndrome. Your brother will be likely be diagnosed with one or the other.

I'm not a mental health practitioner at all, by the way, just someone with a lot of close personal experience with the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:16 PM on January 21, 2013


If he's diagnosed with autism things could change a lot at school -- for the better! -- as he might be eligible for support and social coaching, and the regulations change about how suspension can be used. Suspension is punitive, not therapeutic, and punishes him for behavior that he possibly doesn't have any control over. If the school insists on suspending him, or won't remove the suspension from his record, he might want to have a "manifestation determination" meeting. Those are intimidating, and if he's going to have one you should spend another AskMe getting advice on how to handle it.

For teaching your parents about autism (and by the way, sorry this is falling in your lap): you should be able to find handouts in a variety of languages by looking on various Department of Health-type websites. Here's some basic information in Spanish, for example. Here's a page to get you started in California. If you say what language your parents are most comfortable in I'm sure someone here can direct you towards useful information.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older Occasionally I will run across...   |  I'll be going to NZ for a coup... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.