Saunders: In Enloe water-balloon case, does punishment fit the crime?

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2013 

As pranks go, the one perpetrated by some students last week at Enloe High School lacked originality.

As punishments go, the one meted out by school officials and cops lacked compassion and, some might say, common sense.

Seven students were arrested and suspended for throwing balloons filled with water. Yes, water. One of the students hit a school security guard with a water balloon.

Sure, some people consider the healthfulness of municipal tap water somewhat sketchy for drinking, but getting doused by a water balloon isn’t likely to damage one’s future health.

Tossing one could, on the other hand, damage one’s future. The students charged with throwing balloons face suspensions and a criminal record unless some Solomonic judge decides that an act of youthful indiscretion is undeserving of such a harsh response.

‘Short-term suspensions’

Can you imagine a group of jail inmates sitting down to chow and asking, as jail inmates are wont to do, “Say, homes. What you in for?” Woe be unto the dude who has to answer, “I threw a water balloon.”

Wake County Schools representative Renee McCoy said the students face “short-term suspensions.” Considering that there are only slightly more than 10 days left in the school year, a short-term suspension of up to 10 days could have the same impact as a yearlong suspension, especially if the students have to repeat a year because they couldn’t take year-end exams.

Wow. We are always stressing to students the importance of an education, yet administrators sometimes seem willing to deprive them of access to one for the slightest infractions.

‘A small percentage’

McCoy made it clear that the students weren’t suspended for throwing balloons, but for disobeying the rules.

“Some students – let’s be specific, a small percentage of them – simply were not following the rules. They had been warned the day before by the principal on the intercom” that no disruptive pranks would be tolerated.

Many students, she said, turned in their balloons and other water projectiles to the office. Some didn’t.

What, I asked McCoy, is the school system’s response to complaints that the punishment was excessive?

“We have established rules and codes of conduct that we expect students to follow so that we can maintain order. ... It’s not so much what the specific items were; it’s that they were warned and made a choice not to follow the rules. At that particular campus, we’re responsible for some 2,673 students. ... Anything that causes a disruption runs the risk of injuring students, not necessarily from the objects, but from the disturbance.

“Here you have, for example, a freshman just trying to get to class and all of a sudden she’s trampled in a stampede,” she said, by students trying to avoid balloons presumably filled with bleach, Nair, and other stuff you don’t want to get on you.

Despite Twitter rumors to the contrary, none of the balloons tested thus far contained anything but water. Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said, “It really doesn’t make a difference what was in them.”

The school system’s response becomes a bit more understandable when you consider the potential mayhem the water balloons could have created, and no one but the balloon-chunkers’ mamas could argue that they deserve no punishment.

Surely, though, there is a more creative way to show them the error of their ways than booting them out of school. or 919-836-2811

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