The place of a parent

March 14, 2012, 11:30 a.m. | By Claire Koenig | 12 years, 3 months ago

Administration's power ends at campus' edge

The Latin expression in loco parentis gives schools and institutions the right to speak for their students' best interests in dire instances. Administrations in schools have saved lives in crises and protected students when their parents could not. But although our schools can shoulder that legal burden while we are behind their gates, does it hold that they should keep it with them at all times?

Our parents cannot follow us to school - what gives our administrators the right to follow us home?

After a Bethesda house party on Dec. 12, the police cited 36 students from Walt Whitman High School for alcohol use. Thirty-six students were assigned community service and a date to appear in front of a teen court. Thirty-six students returned home with new stains to scrub from their permanent records.

Thirty-six students arrived at school the next week to find that if consequences for their actions distributed by the police and their parents were not enough. Their principal Alan Goodwin had tracked down their names via social media and word-of-mouth, and suspended them from extra curricular activities for the activity's equivalent of two sports games.

Principals are responsible for their students' actions. Within school walls they retain the right to judiciously discipline, censor and search the minors under their charge for the integrity and safety of the school community. But beyond the campus, after the final bell, that power must stop.

Goodwin's policy is a violation of student privacy rights, and it puts unnecessary pressure on the school and its administrative staff to be constantly held responsible for the actions of thousands of young people.

In the same way that adult freedom of speech can be restricted by time, place and manner, school officials can limit student rights if they come into conflict with the community's interests. This rule is logical in that it helps keep schools safe and all-inclusive; but when administrators extend this power to students' lives outside of class, 'protective' becomes suppressive.

Our parents have power over us, and the police have power over everyone. By punishing students already subjected to the penalty Maryland state law has deemed sufficient, Goodwin is unnecessarily undermining parents' rights to discipline their children and stepping on the toes of our police department. The students have been punished, and additional penalties from the school accomplish nothing more than a disruption of student rights.

To Goodwin's credit, Whitman has had more than its fair share of tragic deaths associated with drunk driving in the past. In 1994, two students died in drunk driving accidents, and another was killed in 1989.

Goodwin's concern for his students is commendable, but his effort to fix the situation was misguided, and his methods down right unethical.

According to Whitman's school paper, The Black and White, Goodwin ferreted out students with citations by scanning Facebook and Twitter pages, listening in on hallway conversations and interviewing students involved. He relied on rumor to determine which students to reprimand, and even so he admitted that he did not discover everyone cited at the party.

This infringement upon the rights of the MCPS student body cannot go unnoticed. In the same way that our school should have no say in what we believe, in our freedom of expression or in our right to protest, they have no right to involve themselves in what we do outside of their care.

It would be wrong to support the decisions of the students at the party - they behaved irresponsibly and should face the consequences of their actions.

But we must support the fact that their principal invaded their privacy and degraded their liberty - because if we don't support the rights of our own age group, we cannot expect to retain them.

Tags: principal Walt Whitman High School student rights

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