The story of 12-year-old Brianna Moore being suspended last week for something her parents said she could do hit a little close to home for me. I have gotten my child in trouble more than once for my own behavior.
First, Brianna's story. When the sixth grader at the Shue-Medill middle school in Newark, Del., worked very hard and made the honor roll -- her first time on that list -- her parents Kevin and Wendy Moore, helped her dye her hair pink as a reward and celebration. The next morning she was "turned away at school" USA Today reports, because her vibrant hair violated school policies. The rule at her school is that brightly colored hair is not allowed -- though other schools in the same district do not have that restriction.
Her parents fought back, the ACLU took the case, and a few days later Brianna was allowed back in class, along with her head of pink hair. All this left me remembering the time I texted one son during math class needing a timely answer to an urgent question. He texted me back and was told to relinquish his phone. Or the time I let him bring Advil to class, knowing that minutes counted when he got the first symptoms of a migraine. But school rules said he had to go to the nurse for medications. His Advil were taken from him, too.
Every year at Back to School Night, as I travel from room to room hearing half a dozen or more teachers recite their different sets of rules for their particular realms, I remember anew how capricious and inconsistent the world can look from those chairs with attached arm-desks. The Spanish teacher permits assignments to be made up; the English teacher doesn't. The history teacher puts the homework online every night, the Latin teacher puts it on the blackboard. The chemistry teacher drops the lowest grade and gives partial credit and doesn't allow gum chewing, but will allow you to snack in class because it's important to regulate your blood sugar. The economics teacher does exactly the opposite, whatever that is. And the math teacher apparently takes away cell phones when you answer a text from your mom, no matter how important it might be.
And sometimes it can be pretty darn important. Kevin Francois learned that six years ago, back when he as a junior in a Columbus, Ga. high school. He told the local tv station that his cell phone rang at 12:30 one afternoon, and seeing it was his mother, he says he stepped outside the building to get better reception. She was calling from Iraq, where she was stationed as a Sgt.1st Class with the 203rd Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
What happened next isn't clear. Kevin, whose father died when he was five, and who was living with a family friend during this, his first separation from his mother, says he told the teacher "This is my mom in Iraq. I'm not about to hang up on my mom." The teacher, who insists the conversation happend in a hallway, not outdoors, says that when she told Kevin to hang up he cursed and became belligerent but never explained the specifics of the call.
As with Brianna, public opinion rallied around Kevin. His suspension was reduced, to three days from the original ten, but not before he surrendered his phone to main office, where it was turned off. Which meant he missed a second call from his mother at 12:37, KMBC-TV reported, "scolding her son about hanging up and telling him to answer the phone when she calls."
Have you told your child they can do something only to have the school tell them they can't? Or perhaps it was the other way around?
Follow Lisa Belkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisabelkin