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Less fire as smoke clears

Posted: March 4, 2012 - 12:00am

With any major event that spawns a sensational story, there typically is an early, explosive period in which rumor, gossip, speculation and outright fabrication fill the vacuum of information.

Then, as the story matures, a significant amount of energy has to be expended in efforts to tamp the genie of misinformation back into the bottle.

We’re right in the middle of the phenomena with this Charlie Rape Gang thing. As a result, I found it enlightening to hear one of the people close to the case point out the obvious: The Charlie Rape Gang isn’t a gang. And no one was raped.

Yet in large part because of that stupidly inflammatory name dreamed up by a punk-pod of juveniles, the hysteria went off the charts.

Now, I agree with probably everybody: The five kids involved are world-class jackasses. The appropriate punishment for each of them is to have his butt whipped, but good.

And then, they should get the treatment a friend of mine dictated for his teen son when he found him dabbling in pot: Your world, as you know it, is over.

No privileges. No phone. No television. No computer. Just school, homework, sleep, repeat, with any previously free time spent in household chores of the cleaning-the-baseboards-with-a-toothbrush variety.

And, naturally, the parents of the kids who were victims of these jerks have a right to be angry. But we do not live in a society that allows the victims to dictate punishment. Such a society does exist in the world, but thankfully Americans don’t live under Sharia law.

In this case, the vacuum-filling hysteria has included calls for all five of these boys to be permanently expelled from school, punishment typically reserved for bringing a deadly weapon on campus, and for them similarly to be charged with felonies. In parallel, they call for firing the school’s principal, mostly because she runs a school where, to hear some people tell it, there was a gang. Of rapists.

But a voice of reason is the best defense for hysteria, and in this case that voice also has the force of law. It’s Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan.

Not exactly known for being a softie, Flanagan defends Principal Felicia Turner for acting based on the information she had at the time. As he points out, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office put three people on the case (three! No wonder we’re relying on gun-toting residents to scare off burglars!), and all they could squeeze out of it are charges of simple battery – a relatively minor misdemeanor that you could earn with an unwelcome shove.

The boys’ hearing this past week was just to establish those charges. All five of them still face their day in court, and they likely also can expect further school disciplinary action now that more information is available (including from victims who reported to the police, but not the school).

And to me, just as importantly, both Flanagan and Columbia County Sheriff’s Capt. Steven Morris say the ongoing investigation should determine if there is any validity to the suspicion that one or more members of the “gang” was, himself, a past victim of far more serious abuse, of the felony variety.

Meanwhile, as the smoke dissipates and we see that the fire isn’t as big as some tried to whip up with copious amounts of hot air, a positive outcome will be a renewed sense from everyone that bullying behavior, particularly in the awkward middle school years, cannot and will not be tolerated.

Anyone not buying in had better pack up now.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/
barrypaschal.)

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Comments (10)

Riverman1

Agree, Again

It was all overblown as I said often. I'll even bet the latest case with the girl doing the same thing is nothing more than a rambunctious girl making a poor joke.

Where our emphasis on discipline by the book fails is in cases like this. Whatever happened to a common sense, no nonsense coach, grabbing a kid and scaring the heck out of him for such behavior? Now it's like kids play schoolhouse lawyer about what can be done to them.

Riverman1

Any Response About Judicial Review

I'm interested if others see the precedent we are setting with judicial review of decisions by our educators? Principals now, teachers next? Civil suits, too, over decisions made in a classroom? All grade levels?

Barry Paschal

"Review" concept

I don't think your concept of this being a judicial review of school actions has gotten any traction because it isn't that. The school disciplined the students for violations of the code of conduct; the police then charged them for violating state law. The judge's action in the hearing - which was not adjudication of the charges, but more akin to a bond hearing - was simply to establish where they'll be until trial.

This sort of thing happens all the time when a student does something that is both a violation of student code and a violation of the law - stealing something, for example, or bringing a knife to school.

By the way: It's not entirely reflected in the stories, but what the girl did was far more than just copy the boys: she also grabbed two boys by the crotch and another on the butt. The judge is getting her a psych eval.

Riverman1

Imposed School Punishments

I view it as the judge reviewed the school punishments and imposed greater SCHOOL punishments. He didn't impose criminal penalties. Of course he may later when this thing returns to court. It appears to me to be an opening of all school punishments to be reviewed by the courts. But maybe that was always the case, but not routinely done. Anyway, just a nuanced angle on the whole matter.

Barry Paschal

The judge just removed two of them from school

The judge removing two of the students from school is the equivalent (actually, sort of a mirror-image, I suppose) of ordering those two held without bond. The school can punish only based on violations of the code of conduct; the judge is the only one who can punish for violations of law, and his punishments can and usually do include dictating whether the student can stay in school.

I fact, I observed one of his juvenile traffic court sessions once, and saw him order a 16-year-old dropout to ATTEND school.

Riverman1

Ha, About Making a Kid Go to School

That's a pet peeve of mine. Making teens go to school who don't want to. They are disruptive to the class. Teachers and the other students don't want them there. If a kid wants to drop out forcing him/her to stay is not a good idea. I also believe some of these kids are simply not cut out for whatever reason to sit in class and actually thrive in the working world.

Riverman1

Middle School is the Worst

Teachers will tell you and if we think back about our own kids and ourselves, middle school kids are the worst behaved. It's right before they get the adult like responsibility.

But back to the subject of school punishments being reviewed by a judge, can anyone remember a case where a judge said a suspension or some other school punishment was not enough and imposed addtional punishment...or has a judge ever decreased the school punishment given a kid? I understand there is a history of imposing additional criminal punishment.

Barry Paschal

Nothing the judge does affects school punishment

Nothing the judge does affects the school's punishment. The set theirs, he sets his. He can't undo a school punishment or make them add to it. In this case he took two of the students out of the school, as I said earlier, in an equivalent to holding them without bond until their hearing.

Riverman1

Not Sure I Get the Analogy

I'm not sure a judge taking kids out of school is the same as holding them without bond. It looks like a suspension to me.

Barry Paschal

The analogy

Yeah, as I noted earlier, it's sort of a mirror-image. When someone is held without bond, it means they're taken out of society by being put in jail. In this case, the kids are taken out of their society (school) by being expelled.

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