(Update, Sunday, 11/22/09: No vindication. The Lansingburgh Board of Education affirmed Whalen's suspension. Whalen's parents plan to appeal to the state. Read more here.)
(Update, Monday, 10/19/09: The Whalens have hired an attorney.)
(Update, Friday, 10/16/09: Superintendent George Goodwin digs in; Whalens plan to sue.)
Things worked out more or less fine for Zachary Christie, the Delaware first-grader who fell afoul of his school district's mindless, insipid "zero-tolerance" policy when the young Cub Scout brought a camping tool to his school.
But a 17-year-old Lansingburgh, NY, student faces "a rough road ahead" with his high school's stubborn, robotic administrators and -- perhaps -- the by-the-book bureaucrats in charge of admissions at West Point.
As I noted earlier, Matthew Whalen was suspended under his school's mindless, insipid "zero-tolerance" policy for having a two-inch knife in a survival kit the Eagle Scout kept locked up in his car. According to Fox News:
As a 17-year-old Eagle Scout continues to wait out a one-month suspension from his upstate New York high school for having a 2-inch pocketknife locked in a survival kit in his car, the U.S. Military Academy says the missed school days could pose a big problem when it reviews his application.
Pressure is mounting on a Troy, N.Y., school board to overrule Matthew Whalen's suspension from Lansingburgh High School, which was issued because of a zero-tolerance policy that is facing increasing opposition from parents and education advocates.
On Wednesday, West Point's director of admissions told Foxnews.com that Whalen's suspension alone wouldn't be a "show-stopper" and "didn't appear to be a big issue" for the youth, though it will appear on his record as the military academy considers his moral and ethical fiber.
"My concern would be, how does this impact on his academics?" said Col. Deborah McDonald, the academy's head of admissions. "Because 20 (school) days is a long time to be suspended."
But the Lansingburgh School District is not budging. A person reached at the home of a school board member referred all calls to the superintendent, who told a local newspaper he thinks the punishment was "appropriate and fair," and that it was necessary for the district to enforce its zero-tolerance policy evenly.
"Sometimes young people do things they may not see as serious," Superintendent George Goodwin told the Albany Times-Union. "We look at any possession of any type of knife as serious."
The lede on the story is somewhat misleading. The suspension "could pose a big problem," not because of the actual offense but rather because Whalen will miss a full month's worth of work that he will not be allowed to make up. Be that as it may, Matthew Whalen's life will be a lot more difficult in the coming months because of this dumb flap.
In other circumstances, the headline on this post might be "They can give you a gun and a badge, but they can't give you good judgment." But the police -- in this case, young Whalen's grandfather -- have displayed a great deal of common sense.
“I understand policies — I enforce them myself — but there’s common sense and I feel that common sense wasn’t used here,” Hoosick Falls Police Chief Robert Whalen told the Troy (NY) Record News. The elder Whalen said he was particularly “irked” at the additional 15-day suspension that administrators piled on top of the original five days that assistant principal Frank Macri had given. “I’m ashamed of Lansingburgh for taking it that far.”
Goodwin, the school district superintendent, told the Albany Times-Union "he is open to the possibility of contacting West Point to ensure that the incident does not affect Whalen's chances of admission."
Not good enough. What's the use of eyes if you refuse to see? What's the use of ears if you don't listen? And what's the use of a brain if you don't think? Instead of using sound judgment, school district officials are closing ranks and insist on defending the indefensible.
"In the past 200 years, America's gotten by just fine without zero tolerance," young Whalen said. "Why do New York state schools have to have it?"
Why do any schools have it? Set clear rules and apply good judgment fairly. Punish the guilty and admonish those guilty of little more than minor transgressions. Use your intelligence, for goodness sake. And if you lack intelligence, you shouldn't be in the "education" business or earning your living on the backs of the taxpayer.
Update: If Matthew Whalen doesn't get into West Point, it will be on his merits and not because George Goodwin is a soulless bureaucratic automaton. According to Albany's WTEN News (via the Washington Times's Water Cooler blog):
The military academy he's wanted to attend since first grade has told Matthew not to worry.
"The Director of Admissions at West Point called and told me that this would be a non-issue for my application there," Matthew says. That's no guarantee that he'll be accepted, but Matthew says it's an assurance that the suspension won't be the reason he doesn't get into the school.
A note about soulless bureaucratic automaton George Goodwin, the superintendent of Lansingburgh School District. The best that might be said of Mr. Goodwin is he only wants to do what's best for the staff, teachers and students under his supervision. The Albany Times-Union story to which I linked above paraphrases Goodwin explaining "the district has to equally enforce its zero-tolerance policy, even for students like Whalen who don't have any past record of misbehavior." And there is Goodwin's quote about what young people may or may not take seriously.
We're talking about a two-inch knife. I carry one from time to time. My father has kept one in his pocket for 25 years. It comes in handy for all sorts of things. A weapon isn't one of them. In fact, New York state law doesn't consider a knife like that to be a weapon.
So the knife is harmless and Whelan wasn't even carrying it. No police officer would arrest Whelan for carrying that knife. No reasonable person would consider Whelan's knife to be threatening or a risk to school safety. Which leads us to the conclusion that Lansingburgh's policy is unreasonable and Goodwin is not a reasonable man.
I don't care what Goodwin's intentions were or what his rationale may be. I don't care if he's a good man, or a caring husband or father -- I don't even know if he is married or has children. But I can see that such a man has no business overseeing schools in the public trust. Let him find gainful employment in the private sector. The bureaucracy is just as idiotic, only more limited in the harm it can do.