Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Principal folly

Angelina Bergin, principal of Lansingburgh High School in Troy, New York, recently was awarded a Doctorate in Education.

Seems the Doctoral program in Common Sense was all booked up.

Matthew Whalen is a senior at Lansingburgh High. The 17-year-old is an Eagle Scout, honored by the Boy Scouts of America for saving a life. Last summer he completed ten weeks of basic military training. He wants to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Whalen also takes personal preparedness seriously, stocking his car with a survival kit that includes a sleeping bag, water, MREs and a knife given to him by his grandfather, who happens to be a local police chief.

Unfortunately, the Lansingburgh School District has one of those zero-common-sense rules -- masquerading as a "zero-tolerance," anti-violence policy that prohibits students from bringing "weapons" to school -- and Whalen was slapped with a 20-day suspension for keeping a two-inch pocketknife in his car.

So, "Dr." Bergin, did you teach the young "offender" a lesson?

This case study in administrative idiocy is reminiscent of another story that's been making headlines lately. Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in his Delaware district’s reform school for bringing a knife-fork-spoon tool to school.

While Christie's penalty (subsequently rescinded) was the fruit of the same foolish tree, that child's "infraction" was born of innocence. Whalen's "violation," however, was the product of acute and sensible awareness -- and he was punished for his common sense. It solved a problem that didn't exist and sends the wrong message to youth in Troy and far beyond.

Credit the young man for not protesting his suspension: "I don't know what I could do, because technically I did break the rules, and I'll accept that punishment. Perhaps I should have been more aware of the rules."

That freshly minted sheepskin hanging on your wall, "Dr." Bergin, isn't worth the ink it took to print it. You may have your degree and your misbegotten rules, but Matthew Whalen -- smart, mature, sensible and prepared -- just took you to school.