Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Total Lack of Diplomacy

My town has made the news again. For whatever reason, the powers that be seem intent on making national news every May, even if it means making a mockery of things many hold sacred.  It started when James Tate turned the side of the high school into his own personal bulletin board, using masking tape to post a sign asking a girl to go to the prom with him. He was subsequently banned from the prom for his “vandalism”, but after pressure from the community and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel and the Today show, the decision was reversed. A few years later, the school administration was back in the national spotlight, this time regarding an 11th hour dress code that suddenly surfaced regarding the style of prom dresses, threatening to ban any student who showed up in a gown that had cut outs, side-slits, or exposed backs. Again there was an uproar and influx of satellite trucks and news teams, and again the administration backed down, or at least softened their stance.  

In both cases, I found myself sympathizing with the administrators for trying to do the “right” thing. Sure, I was also shaking my head at the stupidity of their seemingly knee-jerk reactions and complete lack of foresight in not seeing how these decisions would blow up in their faces, but I could understand and appreciate where they were coming from.  

But their latest May headline grab is absolutely disgusting and indefensible. The Shelton High senior pictured above was recently killed in a car accident, and his parents were hoping he would be posthumously awarded his diploma at graduation, along with his classmates. They were told no.  No. No, we will not allow the name of your dead son to be read aloud with the rest of his classmates. No, we will not award a diploma, even though he was already accepted into college. No, we will not provide any sense of closure, comfort, or common decency.

And why? Is there some legal issue we are not privy to that would give them a legit reason for not honoring such a reasonable request? The answer is no. The excuses they are giving range from rhetoric about World War II and Korean soldiers receiving honorary degrees to the board of ed not being able to find anything in their records to guide them and are therefor unwilling to set a new precedent One BOE member even said “The implication was that others in the future would expect similar treatment” Really? And that is a problem, why? We won’t award your dead son an honorary diploma because then we’d have to give every kid who tragically passes away a diploma? Is paper that expensive? Is decency that difficult?

I truly don’t get it. This is not the first time Shelton has dealt with such a situation, and sadly, it won’t be the last. But in every other instance, they did the right thing. The only difference in this case are the people in charge – and to me,  if I can’t count on them to do right by a single dead student, how the hell can I trust them to make the truly difficult decisions that affect the thousands of kids still in the school system, including my own son? I mean, budget cuts are hard to make. Curriculum choices are very difficult. Safety and security concerns are extremely challenging. I would expect board of ed members to struggle with such decisions. But no one could have expected such a no-brainer “decision” to show a little common sense and compassion to become such a problem. And that is a problem. I have lost all faith, trust, and patience with this board of ed – and even if they repeat their May pattern of reversing their decision, it will be too late. The damage has been done. If they require past precedent in order to be decent, then we need some new people in charge.

I say this not just as a concerned citizen or upset parent, but as a teacher. One, who every year, gives his students the same advice: “Don’t be the kid they dedicate the yearbook to.” They look at me a little strange until I explain that, chances are, when they show up in September as freshmen, one of the kids in their high school will not live to see his or her graduation.  And while that kid will get a special page in the yearbook, and have balloons released in his or her honor, and have the school rock painted in their favorite color, and get the loudest cheer at graduation, you do NOT want to be that kid.

And you definitely don’t want to be that kid if you live in Shelton.