(Update: See this follow-up post on the school district's push-back against press reports.)
(Updated below with details from the Associated Press, video from New England Cable News, and other commentary.)
Just in time for Christmas, some soulless, bureaucratic automatons at Maxham Elementary in the hamlet of Taunton, Massachusetts suspended a second-grader from school and ordered him to receive a psychiatric evaluation for drawing a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross. Looks like zero-tolerance idiocy strikes again.
Here is the story, according to the Taunton Gazette:
A Taunton father is outraged after his 8-year-old son was sent home from school and required to undergo a psychological evaluation after drawing a stick-figure picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The father said he got a call earlier this month from Maxham Elementary School informing him that his son, a second-grade student, had created a violent drawing. The image in question depicted a crucified Jesus with Xs covering his eyes to signify that he had died on the cross. The boy wrote his name above the cross.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re violating his religion,” the incredulous father said.
He requested that his name and his son’s name be withheld from publication to protect the boy.
The student drew the picture shortly after taking a family trip to see the Christmas display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, a Christian retreat site in Attleboro. He made the drawing in class after his teacher asked the children to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas, the father said.
“I think what happened is that because he put Xs in the eyes of Jesus, the teacher was alarmed and they told the parents they thought it was violent,” said Toni Saunders, an educational consultant with the Associated Advocacy Center.
I'm not certain that the school violated the boy's religion, although it wouldn't be the first time a school trampled on a student's First Amendment right to portray religious themes in art. If nothing else, school officials violated common sense.
The drawing supposedly "violated the code of violence in the school handbook," according to the Washington Times. But this wasn't a case of a Cub Scout bringing a camping tool to class or even an older student having a knife locked in his car. This was a picture. Even the "violence" depicted in it is relatively benign. And in any event, school officials make a grave and fundamental mistake when they equate pictures of violence with actual violence. (Interestingly, a number of schools suggest "writing stories or poems or drawing pictures" as a prevention tool. Makes sense. It's cathartic.)
Turns out, the boy is a special education student, but he reportedly has no history of discipline problems. Could that have influenced the school's decision?
Naturally, the district superintendent justifies the school's overreaction with the usual butt-blanketing bureaucratic balderdash: "Generally speaking, we have safety protocols in place," Superintendent Julie Hackett told the Taunton Gazette. "If a situation warrants it, we ask for outside safety evaluations if we have particular concerns about a child’s safety. We followed all the protocols in our system."
I believe that is correct -- they followed "all the protocols." Does that not suggest something is very, very wrong with the protocols? And isn't it funny how the protocols almost always exclude or present parents with faits accompli about what needs to be done to their children?
Update: Oh, dear. According to the AP:
Chester Johnson told WBZ-TV that his son made the drawing on Dec. 2 after his second-grade teacher asked children to sketch something that reminded them of the holiday.
Johnson said the teacher became upset when his son said he drew himself on the cross. Johnson, who is black, told WBZ he suspects racism is involved. He said he thinks the school overreacted and wants an apology.
Hard to say, from this distance, whether or how race was a factor in the teacher's response or the school's decision. But certainly the school overreacted in any event. The Associated Press story also fleshes out some details about 8-year-old Johnson's reaction to his circumstances:
The boy was cleared to return to school on Dec. 7 after the evaluation found nothing to indicate that he posed a threat to himself or others. But his father said the boy was traumatized by the incident and the school district has approved the family's request to have the child transferred to another school.
"They owe my family an apology and the kid an apology and they need to work with my son (to) the best of their ability to get him back to where he was before all this happened," Johnson told New England Cable News.
Too late. The school can't undo what it's done. In an effort to play it safe, the school harmed this child. Does anyone think that Chester Johnson's son will ever forget what happened to him when he drew a picture of his savior? So stupid.
Here is the video of the story from New England Cable News.
Update: Ed Morrissey writes:
It’s hard to imagine a more clueless, knee-jerk response than the one given by this school. First, Jesus on a crucifix has been a symbol of Christianity for two millenia. Since Christmas is in fact a Christian holiday, at least nominally, the crucifix in this drawing clearly came from Christian symbolism and not some latent threat of a reenactment of the last scenes of Spartacus from a second grader. How dense or deliberately obtuse must a teacher and administrators be not to understand the symbolism involved in this drawing?
And a commenter at Joanne Jacobs's blog reiterates what I've been saying all along about zero-tolerance rules:
This kind of incident does not enhance the public view of the education establishment and those who inhabit it. There’s a toxic combination of silly, “zero-tolerance” policies and no common sense or judgment in their application. It’s a total cop-out on the part of the perpetrators; a refusal to accept the responsibility to make sensible judgments and accept the consequences. It’s the same mindset that sees bringing an aspirin or a plastic knife as deserving of expulsion.
The Taunton Gazette editorializes:
Why didn’t the teacher just talk to the child when he was drawing the picture and ask what it meant? Couldn’t that have spared everyone the grief?
The child was just doing his assignment. He wasn’t drawing this picture to cause any harm. He was just doing his schoolwork.
Yet the school district has turned this into a major story that is now gaining some national notoriety.
All for a little picture.
Related posts on school zero-tolerance policies run amok:
• Vindication for Zachary Christie
• No vindication for Matthew Whalen... yet
• Who is George Goodwin?
• Where is the school board on Lansingburgh's insipid, mindless zero-tolerance policy?
• Well, OF COURSE Lansingburgh school administrators overreacted
• Vindication for Matthew Whalen... maybe soon
• On zero-tolerance policies: "Schools' get-tough rules cross the line"
• No vindication for Matthew Whalen