Cooked Up Foolishness

We hold to a higher standard those who are, either directly or indirectly, responsible for the welfare, education and societal assimilation of our children. The onus on educators, school staff and administrators and school board members is a heavy one, and the vast majority of them carry it well. Yet, when one of them stumbles and falls, because of that burden, the noise from the crash is much greater than when, say, a local newspaper editor falls errant in his or her ways.

When a report surfaced last week that a long-time member of the Richland 2 School Board had threatened the life of Westwood High School’s head football coach, we were, to put it mildly, shocked. That she would later deny it, refuting the statements of two witnesses, one of whom was the then acting superintendent, was not only disappointing, but was so implausible as to be insulting. The denial also revealed a “bullet-proof” mentality that is nowhere to be found on the list of qualities we wish to pass along to our children. The “I can do what I want because of who I am” theorem, while sadly too often applied successfully in our society, is a just plain lousy lesson to pass along.

A second report, indicating this same school board member had, less than three weeks after the original incident, sent a proxy out to loom ominously over the coach’s football practice, was equally disturbing, if not more so. This second incident gives us a glimpse inside the mind of a Board member who, having been instructed by the Board chairman to refrain from contact with the football coach, cannot take “Don’t” for an answer, a Board member who is willing and capable of dispatching muscle to do her bidding and make her presence felt. She has since denied sending anyone to spy on the Westwood coach, even though the gentleman intercepted by deputies at the practice field told police that she had done just that.

It is, of course, entirely within the realm of possibilities that the entire chain of events is just as the Board member described them: ‘Some foolishness cooked up by certain administrators;’ that the now full-time superintendent and the District’s Human Resources Officer fabricated the entire first event back on Oct. 7, and that Clero Evans lied to deputies when he was questioned about his motives for stalking around football practice on Oct. 30. Why they would do so, however, is more difficult to fathom than that they would do so. Why the Board would issue a statement following the Oct. 7 event, declaring that ‘threats and harassment would not be tolerated,’ had no threats or harassment occurred is more mysterious than who shot J.R. Ewing.

Perhaps we live in an all-too over sensitized world, where offhand comments like ‘I just want to kill the coach and I have a gun’ are taken too literally. But not without good reason. In our post-Columbine, post-Sandy Hook, post-(insert name of favorite mass shooting here) world, threats, particularly in, on or around a school campus, must be taken seriously. Had a student – in a Richland 2 school or in any other district – uttered such an indelicacy, the consequences would have been dire, and they would have been swift. The entire school in which such a statement were to be overheard would be on lockdown faster than Chris Christie can say ‘Big Mac,’ and the offending student would be explaining how the whole thing was just ‘foolishness’ to a Juvenile Court judge before Christie could add ‘Super-Size me.’

It may appear to the rational mind that we, as a society, have gone overboard when students are routinely expelled for even drawing pictures of guns, for wearing camouflage or for wearing a camouflage shirt depicting an image of a gun. And perhaps we have. But that is the new world of universal fear in which we allow ourselves to live. It is also worth noting that all of the aforementioned offenses are a far cry from actually stating you wish to kill someone and punctuating that threat by noting that, by the way, you actually have the means to make those wishes come true.

The lessons being passed on to Richland 2 students from this particular Board member are at best regrettable. There remains, however, one positive lesson with which she can leave them: Accountability. And she can do so by publicly owning up to her statements and actions, by apologizing for the embarrassment she has caused the District and by announcing her resignation.

Anything short of that would be ‘foolishness’ indeed.