Thursday, April 5, 2007

Honor Student Wrongly Punished For Bomb Threat

CBS, April 4 2007

A teenager in Westmoreland County who spent 12 days in a juvenile detention facility when he was wrongly accused of making a bomb threat says he doesn't want to go back to the school and he wants an apology from administrators.

Police arrested Hempfield Area High School sophomore Cody Webb, 15, last month after school administrators claimed he called in the threat 3:17am on March 12th.

But officials now concede that the call didn't come from Webb and the misunderstanding stemmed from Daylight Saving Time.

Webb, an honor student who never even had a detention, admits that he called the school's hotline that morning – an hour earlier.

The district, however, never changes its clocks – and insisted that Webb made the threat.

After his attorney finally convinced the school what really happened, Webb was finally released and all charges were dropped.

Now the school wants Webb to come back to class, but the teen says he was humiliated by the principal and doesn't want to return to the district.

He and his family are considering their next course of action.

The school's conclusion must have seemed accurate; a time stamp and a bomb threat. But would it have killed them to actually listen to the Honor student's explanation and do some investigation first? They locked the teen up in prison for twelve days before his attorney could talk some sense into them. Given the student's track record, the school should have given him the benefit of the doubt and looked into his claims instead of throwing the book at him and ending up with this mess.
Schools have historically defended their positions with the legal notion of In loco parentis, that is, that the school is taking the place of the parent while the child is in their custody and therefore the school has absolute legal right to decide how to treat its students. School officials are granted the autonomy of a governmental institution and have absolute control over their students; potential for abuse is rife.
Perhaps there should exist a resource for the students to keep the school's authority in check, and defend the students against unreasonable and (anywhere else) illegal violations of civil rights. I have had a handful of amazing and subversive teachers that could be counted on to stand up for their students, who began with the presumption of innocence and had enough common sense to plead a student's case for them. Currently such defense only seems to fall to the family attorney after the fact.
Even kids who have taken Honors-level Civics classes are too inexperienced and too naive to present a credible case, and in any case, they have already been accused, condemned and punished before any response can be made. An inordinate amount of control one institution has over its subjects is always subject to abuse.

Thankfully, the legal system still works in the Real World and these victims can be compensated. But their rights never should have been violated to begin with, and not every family can afford to make the commitment Cody Webb's parents made for their son.

No comments: