It’s Not Just the Policies, It’s Your People

Gavel in Court

Reading a bit more about the situation in California that broke yesterday with a girl being ordered to take off her NRA t-shirt by a public school official, it appears that there are consistent issues of late with this particular school and its officials.

The first piece of evidence is the NRA shirt case, where the district now admits that the shirt never violated any policies at all. However, these are the same people who specifically wrote the policy to state that if anything a student wears is declared “divisive or offensive to a staff member,” then it is banned. In other words, expressing an opinion contrary to any staff member in the school on your t-shirt is banned for being divisive. Needless to say, that’s not remotely constitutional since it gives staff the power to ban political expression they consider divisive or anything they don’t like for personal reasons.

The same school, apparently under a different principal, but largely the same staff, had to apologize last year and undergo more training on policies when they endorsed “Seniores” and “Señoritas” events that encouraged the overwhelmingly white school kids to dress up to fit ethnic stereotypes. Some kids apparently opted to dress as gang members and pregnant chicks. Gee, who couldn’t see that kind of poor decision-making coming from a mile away? But the school district promised that more training and more policies would keep the school out of trouble.

While the two incidents seem pretty different, there is one common theme to both of them. Perhaps it’s time to admit that policies aren’t the only problem here. Perhaps it is time to admit that the people incapable of making reasonable decisions, even after they’ve been given all of these policies and all of this training, are the problem. In fact, I would say that the fact the new principal, appointed after the “Seniores” and “Señoritas” snafu made headlines, is the one defending the unconstitutional t-shirt policy, it really just goes to show that no one in the school really learned anything in all of their “training.”

Sadly, even if the school district leaders did admit that no amount of training will fix the situation, there’s not really much they would do to change it.

17 thoughts on “It’s Not Just the Policies, It’s Your People”

  1. I’m truly beginning to believe that the bureaucratic mind should be classified and researched as a mental disorder.

    1. “the bureaucratic mind should be classified and researched as a mental disorder.”

      Actually that disorder should be identified before they’re allowed to become bureaucrats.

      I think the phenomenon is independent of involving “bureaucracies” per se. I have watched people given a little authority turn into flaming horses-asses everywhere from the Army, 50 years ago, with a “SP4 with time in grade” trying to push his platoon around while the cadre was absent, to cop wannabes who became safety officers on gun club ranges, who would peek around corners to see if they could catch someone in a petty violation. It is in the spectrum of human nature, and we’re setting ourselves up for trouble if we believe it is isolated in any concentrated form in government entities.

      Maybe I’m just feeling magnanimous today, but the good news is that incidents like this one at this school are comparatively rare in our country of 320 million. I have heard of about a half-dozen of them (pretty balanced in terms of ideology, in terms of the T-shirt expression) and the reason we hear about them is, they are rare enough to be newsworthy. If they reach a courtroom (often with ACLU aid, again, independent of ideology) the student usually prevails, absent other factors.

  2. School administration has been given a lot of latitude on first amendment issues by courts, even on issues such as student newspapers and “freedom of the press”. The language most schools get away with (whether it’s a confederate flag shirt, gay rights shirt, NRA shirt, whatever) is that it is “disruptive to the educational environment”. I don’t know if they took that avenue of defense here, but chances are a court would back them up if they did.

    1. While my DayQuil brain is a bit fuzzy on the details, I seem to remember a Supreme Court case where they ruled that kids at school can’t expect the same constitutional protections as adults.

    2. Actually, that’s not the case here at all. First of all, they would undermine their own case with the fact that she has worn the shirt before, and it was never shown to be disruptive. In those circumstances, it was allowed to be worn all day. They would need to point to an actual incident sparked by the shirt beyond a staff member declaring it violent, as happened in this case.

      Secondly, there is case law on the specific issue of generic NRA-t-shirts already since they aren’t the first school to try it. While this case isn’t in that circuit, the Fourth Circuit specifically declared that in these situations, the depictions of firearms are entitled to First Amendment protections, even in schools.

      The Ninth Circuit has, in its recent history, given very broad First Amendment protections to students. Unfortunately, the SCOTUS overturned the last high-profile case, but a big legal determination of that case that really gave a better definition of where the line is drawn was the fact that the speech in question was found to reasonably be a promotion of illegal drug abuse – a crime for anyone, in school or not. NRA membership and lawful use of firearms are not crimes, so there is a bit of a key distinction there.

      Now, if they wanted to ban all shirts with images, messages, or logos, they could do that for the reasons you cited, and it wouldn’t be a violation of the First Amendment. But, the fact that they allow staff to use a blatantly unconstitutional standard to create their ban that wouldn’t be remotely content neutral, yeah, that’s a violation of the rights she does have protected by the courts.

      1. Makes sense. I knew I wasn’t remembering it entirely correctly.

        Side note: What do you want to bet there were at least 3 students there that same day she was suspended wearing Che Guevara t-shirts?

        1. Yeah, I should add that I don’t actually fully agree with the findings in that last SCOTUS case. I think that the phrase Bong Hits 4 Jesus was pretty non-sensical, even if the term bong does imply a drug connection. I also don’t think it should have been governed by school speech codes because they school made the decision to release the kids early and it was across from school property, not on it. Not that I don’t think the kids weren’t being dumb, but I am more disturbed about the expansion of power over kids out of school.

      2. “the speech in question was found to reasonably be a promotion of illegal drug abuse. . .”

        I know you are just reporting it (exactly the way I understood it, too), but for rhetoric’s sake, isn’t that exactly the kind of speech that most requires First Amendment protections? Almost anything except immediate incitement to violence or riot?

        I am going to have to paraphrase it because I don’t have the quote immediately at hand, but some years ago Milton Mayer wrote, approximately, “The Young Man of the Year by definition does not need to have his rights protected. . .for rights to mean anything at all, they must be the rights of One Obnoxious Man.” Or, one obnoxious sentiment.

        1. Schools don’t have to give full First Amendment protections. Promoting criminal activity could reasonably be seen as disruptive to the educational environment.

          1. “Promoting criminal activity could reasonably be seen as disruptive to the educational environment.”

            As could expressing ideologically charged, partisan political sentiments regarding other issues. And so we come full circle, and endorse the bureaucrats’ sentiment, if not their judgement or bias, as applied to this school’s example. I remember a fist-fight starting over the Kennedy/Nixon election when I was in high school. That disrupted things quite a bit that day. Damned campaign buttons!

            The road to hell is labeled by a sign that points to “reasonable.”

            1. I’m working off of the current legal standards applied to the situation in public schools. You might not like it, but it’s reality.

              1. My apologies. I thought you stated it as if you were endorsing it, rather than merely stating how courts have justified their rulings.

                I’m usually the guy counseling recognition of reality. The ultimate reality is that no one, juvenile or adult, has any more rights than they can afford to prove in court, or, the resources to enforce by some other means.

    3. Well, maybe not. The Supreme Court decided a case almost exactly the same as this. The decision was that though some rights do not apply to minor-age students, including the First Amendment, students must be allowed some latitude – just what that means was not very clear, but the case in question was decided in favor of the student.

      1. I am probably going off on a tangent, but, there are probably thousands of people in this country with unjust and undeserved juvenile records, because in general, juveniles do not have the same civil rights as adults. The offsetting factor for that is that punishments are supposed to be less draconian, and at one time a juvenile record was supposed to be closed behind you once you reach adulthood. But, to bring in Second Amendment issues, in Pennsylvania, and I’m sure a number of other states, there are a large handful of crimes that when convicted of them as a juvenile, will carry forward to disbar one from firearms ownership as an adult. Over the years I’ve known of several people who discovered in their thirties or later, thanks to Instant Background Checks, they were disbarred from owning firearms due to a juvenile conviction for which they had had incompetent legal advice and counsel, and had not mounted a defense, because they and their parents had been told “it is easiest just to take your medicine and put it all behind you when you turn eighteen.” Come thirty-five and they discovered ex post facto, it wasn’t all behind them, at all.

        Which is my long-winded way of getting around to saying, I am not comfortable at all with anyone who rules that minors are not entitled to the identical rights of adults.

        On a still further tangent, I can’t help but wonder in how many cases what I cite was true, for all those kids the Luzerne County judges sold to the private prison in return for per-head kickbacks.

  3. The school district leaders, and by that I mean the administration and majority of school board members, are also the problem. “Training and policies”?? Firings are due. Demote the principal (only because she seems to have recognized the fail and backtracked) and fire the staff who initiated this…

    BTW, let’s have a FOIA request so the staff are publicly identified.

  4. @MrCrispy and Andy B – You’re just complaining about the symptoms when you rail about the bureaucratic mind. Just as about 10% of humans are left handed, a certain percentage of humans will become petty jerks. The solution is not to seek them out for counseling or constrain them with regulations, but eliminate opportunities for them to inflict that pettiness upon others. With government, including government-run schools, that means very much smaller government. No power for them, no pain for us. Or, at least a lot less…..

  5. “a certain percentage of humans will become petty jerks.”

    Oh, I know that, and to an extent, that is what I thought I was saying. But I’m long-winded enough without writing a chapter on every nuance of a problem.

    With regard to governments and bureaucracies, I eschew labeling myself these days, but I lean toward the political philosophy characterized by thinking that no level of authority is “legitimate.”

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