Punishing a student for something the student writes is just wrong. If a student's writing contains specific threats against specific individuals some action may be justified. I certainly believe that schools are obliged to keep students safe. Everything I have read about the Rachel Boim case, leads me to conclude that her high school not only overreacted, but probably violated Rachel's rights.
Rachel Boim, a 14-year-old freshman, was expelled from Roswell High School in Atlanta, for what the school district calls “inappropriate writings that describe the threat of bodily harm toward a school employee." The “inappropriate writings” consisted of “a fictional tale in her private journal about a student who dreams that she kills a teacher.”
The journal entry describes an unnamed student, having a dream while asleep in class. In the dream, the student shoots an unnamed math teacher and then runs out of the classroom, only to be killed by a security guard. After that, the school bell rings and the student having the dream wakes up, picks up her books, and walks to another classroom.
Rachel’s father said “his daughter often carries her personal journal and did not have it in class as part of an assignment when it was confiscated Oct. 7.” Her art teacher took the journal during the class because Rachel was passing it to a classmate.
The art teacher kept the journal overnight, obviously read it, and the next day Rachel was taken from her second-period class by school police.
The The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Rachel was expelled after a closed, three-hour hearing. The school justified the expulsion by stating:
"Anytime the safety and security of our students and staff are put into question, we investigate the situation and, if warranted, take serious action." After reviewing the evidence, the hearing officer felt expulsion was an appropriate disciplinary response.
Rachel will be allowed to attend another school within the Fulton system until the end of the academic year, but the choice must be approved by school officials.
Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy, asks, “if she's such a danger to people, why will she ‘be allowed to attend another school within the Fulton system until the end of the academic year?’”
Wednesday's hearing included testimony from Rachel's parents and Georgia's poet laureate. They all testified that the girl's story was nothing more than a work of fiction in a journal filled with drawings, coloring, poems, and other creative expression.
Poet Laureate David Bottoms, said that he tried to convince the hearing officer that the journal entry was a narrative that grew out of creative thought.
"In my opinion, based on my experience as a writer and with more than 20 years of teaching creative writing, this piece of work is clearly an imaginative piece, a piece of fiction -- totally non-threatening."
Rachel is an honors student in biology, French and English literature. She is the captain of her crew team and a voracious reader. She comes from a family of writers.
Rachel’s father said Rachel was treated unfairly:
I believe the school system is asking her to cede her Fourth Amendment right, her First Amendment right and her right to due process. Basically, the school system is saying they decide what is an appropriate topic to write about and what is an inappropriate topic."
He said the family moved to Roswell from Colorado three years ago. Because they lived in suburban Denver at the time, the Boims often talked at home about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves.
"Students today are very aware of the violence around them. The shootings in school, we all hear about that and they affect children. Creative writers, or people who create art, write about what's happening in their society.
At a Friday news conference, it was announced that Rachel’s expulsion was temporarily rescinded. School officials said they would allow Rachel to return to Roswell High School until the school board hears more about the incident.
I like the way Rachel’s family is handling this matter. They have gotten great coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In addition there have been appearances on radio's Neal Boortz, Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" TV show, and CNN. Rachel is getting a great education on civil liberties.
In a follow-up article today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Rachel can return to school Monday if she wants, but she and her parents are undecided about whether she will go back to Roswell High.
This is only good until November. They could reinstate this," said her father, David Boim. "And then we're back to square one.
Rachel has mixed emotions about returning to Roswell High.
I have a lot of really good friends who go to Roswell High School. I would definitely like to go back," she said. "But I'm nervous about how I'd be treated by the faculty and staff. I feel like they'd be constantly watching me, waiting for me to mess up.
Zero tolerance has become an excuse not to make decisions. School administrators are able to claim they are just following the rules, they are not required to make a decision.
A story in a diary or journal is a far cry from the maps and plans which the Columbine killers wrote and talked about with friends. Zero tolerance policies may have sounded like a good idea in the wake of the Columbine tragedy and other acts of school violence. With no room for reason, interpretation, or common sense, zero tolerance is mindless and wrongheaded. In Rachel’s case, it has clearly resulted in a grave injustice.
Educators are charged with teaching our children; helping them to develop into happy, inquisitive, creative, productive adults, and with keeping them safe. The bureaucrats that expelled Rachel have shown themselves to be unqualified for that task. They, not Rachel, pose a threat to the welfare and future of students.
Rachel’s journal should have been returned to her at the close of class. A private chat with her on the subject of her "passing" anything during class time would have been the appropriate reaction here.
Thanks to Best of the Web for the pointer.