Saturday, March 25, 2017

On the Homefront: Answering to the Bosses When Necessary

"I know it when I see it." This phrase is used throughout society and is often used to describe whether the speaker has determined if a certain whatever has crossed some sort of invisible line into an unacceptable area.
For instance, since I love pop culture and movies, I'll use Indiana Jones as an example. Those who make the ratings for movies knew it was too gross to be given a PG mark, but that it was also too tame to give it an R. Hence, PG-13 was created. They knew it crossed a line, but it didn't cross all the way over to the other side.

Elsewhere in Western New York this past week, a teacher in the Eden Central School District was the topic of a somewhat controversial Board of Education meeting. Specifically, this teacher was granted board approval to take her students to the inauguration in January. However, this teacher also allegedly altered the return date of the field trip so that the students and she could spend an extra day in Washington, D.C. and that the women's march could be attended.

Talk about your administrative headache.

I first heard about this story on Tuesday afternoon, and my son was quick to comment with his opinion. I had to quiet him down because he was essentially listening to 90 percent opinion, and minimal facts. But taking those facts - as few as were available - allowed he and I to engage in a pretty interesting conversation.

I told him about my freshman year of high school and how that spring, 27 of the most popular members of that year's senior class wound up in some major trouble on the ever popular, normally unauthorized senior skip day. Without getting too detailed, let's just say I was related to the administrator who both caught and helped dole out the punishment, so I was in the unenviable position of knowing stuff I probably shouldn't have. But that was 22 (!) years ago. I am pretty sure they have all moved on with their lives.

But at the time it was big news. I remember stories being told of parents being called during that day and upon being asked why their child wasn't in school, the response was that their child was home sick. They couldn't legitimately answer the next question, which went something like, "Oh? Well then could you explain why he is on this video we just took at this place?"

Yup, during the pre-cellphone video camera era, a few administrators had the forethought to take a video camera to make sure their hunches were correct and that they could film the proof. They did.

I actually managed to sneak a watch at the video, because as a freshman, the seniors who were caught were people I kind of admired. We're talking athletes and student council and honor society members. The top of the proverbial high school food chain. To their credit, they were at least cooperative once caught. After all, they were the "good kids."

How does such a situation relate to the situation in Eden, you ask? Well, in a way I think the parents in both situations could have done things differently. And, for the record, I have yet to find anything substantive on the Eden story to more fully base an opinion. That particular story is still flushing itself out.

Board approval in school districts, particularly for field trips, is a major thing. All the marks are in the boxes, and there are a proper amount of chaperones and dates are set so that, I think, all the school district's insurance requirements are proper. (I'm not as versed on this as I should be, but I hope you get the general idea.)

For my high school, when the parents of those seniors covered for their kids when those kids were not, in fact, home sick, it left the school district in a precarious position. What if any of those 27 decided to drive home on wet roads after skipping school? They were over an hour from town, and coolers with a certain type of beverage were seen on the video. What if the worst had happened and tragedy had struck? Parents could have sued the school district because word had reached the offices that something was going on. If the district had not acted, one would have to imagine a negligence lawsuit, right?

Unfortunately, parents in this case decided to continue defending the offending students. I heard that some had the idea that suing the district for entrapment since a video camera was used would be the way to go.

In Eden, there are still many differing accounts of who knew what and when they knew it. Unfortunately, the district is in quite the position given our nation's current political climate. In reality, the chance to see a presidential inauguration is something historic, no matter one's views. For that, the teacher and the district deserve a tip of the cap for recognizing its significance.

However, the extra day left the district in a bind. Did the board know? Did the parents know? Did the parents know and not bother to find out more? Where is the paper trail showing all of the proper approval? If the teacher is fired, is it spun so that we are to believe it is because of her political beliefs? If the teacher is kept, what kind of precedent does that set for future field trips?

Both cases involve parents, although the one in Eden is not nearly as cut and dry at this point, and much more information must still come out.

The point here is that the parents in my school district and, apparently, some of the parents in Eden crossed that line where a small fib turned into a blatant lie (or lie of omission as the case may be). At some point, the line of acceptable and unacceptable was blurred or erased completely, and it led to what could have been quite dangerous situations.

And the problem is that it is difficult to know exactly where that line is. I sincerely hope that when it shows itself during the school years for the kids in my house, my wife and I make the right decision and present a united, accountable front rather than one that essentially approves poor decisions.

Howard Balaban is a stay-at-home dad who hopes to chaperone a few field trips for his kids some day within a board approved time frame.