Commentary

Saunders: Some readers agree, water balloon punishment called for creativity

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJune 3, 2013 

See there? That’s precisely why the seven Enloe High School students involved in the now-notorious water-balloon affair last month shouldn’t have been suspended from school or arrested.

Some readers who responded to my recent column on the water-throwers obviously were absent – suspended, perhaps? – from school the week reading comprehension was taught.

Despite reading the column, they accused me of arguing that the waterlogged septet should’ve received no punishment, and indeed should have been feted for their disruptive, unimaginative prank. One guy, who claimed to be a teacher, wrote “Why do you think creating chaos is OK?”

Oy.

The students were arrested and suspended from school. Testing is still being conducted to confirm that it was merely H2O inside the balloons and not – as the Twitterati tweeted – bleach or some toxic chemicals. The balloon boys and their families held a news conference last week to protest criminal charges, restate that it was only water and state that officials overreacted.

They did – but only if plain water was in the balloons.

If the thrown balloons contained something dangerous, then throw the book at ’em.

Back in the day ...

If it were just water, though, Wake County Schools spokeswoman Renee McCoy eloquently explained the importance of preventing chaos if education is to take place.

But a criminal record? For water? Man, had this occurred at Leak Street School in Rockingham, the ballooners would’ve had afterschool detention and a date with the principal, Mr. Watkins, or with truant officer/ disciplinarian the Rev. Sawyer: He used a leather strop while Mr. Watkins favored a wooden paddle with holes in it to make it more aerodynamic.

The offenders would have then returned to class, perhaps unable to sit, but still able to continue their education.

I like the suggestion made by a reader named Paul.

“Since the administration knew this was going to occur,” he wrote, “they could have taken the bull by the horns and arranged to end classes early to let the kids go to the football field for a water balloon free-for-all – those that didn’t want to participate could have enjoyed the spectacle from the bleachers. Everybody wins.”

Hear, hear. A reader named James wrote, “Way back in the day when I was an undergraduate at Purdue, a bunch of anti-war activists broke out all the windows of the on-campus armory. Next night they marched on campus, and a bunch of us threw water balloons at them. The ringleader came over and ingratiated himself by saying ‘I’m calling the police.’ The campus policeman sauntered over and replied ‘I recognize you from last night. You deserve to get water-ballooned.’ Creative enough?” Yep.

Creative discipline

Retired teacher Jackie suggested, as do I, in-school suspension. “Don’t get me wrong,” she wrote. “I believe in discipline. ... Throwing water balloons at the end of the year is a much bigger deal than it initially appears. However, there are a lot of creative ways to deal with this prank which would be sufficiently unpleasant ... and yet would allow these students to finish the year.”

Right on, Jackie.

Education is too important to be denied for minor offenses. Were I the principal, I’d have let the pranksters stay in school, but I’d have said, “OK, since y’all @#$%& love playing with water so much, grab those buckets and mops and go to all of the bathrooms and hallways and have a ball. But first, say ‘Hello’ to my wooden friend.”

Splish, splash.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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