We recently got a call from the high school principal. He was suspending my son.
I was sure that the offense must be bad if a suspension was involved. I thought about the possibilities – fireworks, a knife in his backpack, fighting, or maybe destruction of school property. He is a good kid, but since he was getting suspended, I expected the worst.
I asked my wife what he had done to deserve such a significant punishment. “He ‘pantsed’ a kid in gymn class,” she said, unable to keep a straight face. I questioned her again, not understanding, and not believing, what I had heard.
She explained, “He ‘pantsed’ someone. You know, pulled their pants down so that their underwear showed.” She started laughing out loud.
Since she had a commitment, I was elected to go to the school and meet with the assistant principal.
As I drove to the school I remembered a story about my Grampy. He was a teacher and school administrator that knew how to deal with class clowns and unruly students. One day in Ag class he was teaching the students how to shear sheep. One of the students smarted off and asked if the shears would cut human hair. The smart aleck ended up with a buzzed head, compliments of my Grampy and sharp shears. According to the story, everyone in the class laughed about it, even the student with sheared hair. From then on they called him Turnip Head.
Today that would be a lawsuit.
When I saw my son in the Assistant Principal’s office, he was devastated. His head was hanging low, and he was on the verge of tears. He told the story, and admitted to the crime. So, open and shut, he was guilty as charged. He had indeed pulled the shorts of a classmate down during a coed gym class and caused an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
I asked about the recipient of the prank. He had been trying to do the same thing to my son, unsuccessfully. He also felt bad that my son was being punished. That brought me some peace of mind. At least it wasn’t a malicious act, and the two boys could still be friends and laugh about it.
“How long is the suspension?” I asked. I expected a day or maybe two.
“Five days,” she replied. “That is the standard punishment for the offense.”
Five days! For pulling a guy’s shorts down around his knees during gym class!
I kept my cool and asked, “Was my son aware of the policy against such behavior?”
The policy had been clearly stated, explained, and emphasized at the beginning of the year, but my son didn’t remember it. This is where we explained that ignorance to the law is not a viable excuse. (This was really happening. My son was being suspended for five days over an innocuous prank.)
I don’t excuse his behavior. It was below the belt… er… out of line. I couldn’t fault the administrators (except for the complete loss of common sense). They had clearly communicated the expectations, and evenly applied the punishment for all perpetrators. However, I did feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. I had fallen asleep for several years, and when I awoke, petty pranks had become heinous crimes. How had we arrived at this point?
My wife, my son, and I met with the Principal. Not long into the cordial discussion, I got my answer. This particular prank had been played on an unsuspecting student a few years ago at a neighboring school district. The administration addressed it casually, as we would have in times past. The parents of the prank’s victim sued the school.
The moral of the story?
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this at a clean and efficiently run school, thank a good school administrator. If can read this and find it absolute maddening that we punish innocuous pranks so severely, thank sue-happy parents and their slimy lawyers.