The Wake County school board is typically a thoughtful, moderate group, not given to punitive, knee-jerk reactions to a pattern of problems. So for the board to move toward fines and perhaps longer suspensions for students involved in bomb threats or other claims that violence is planned against schools is a significant sign that a problem is growing.
The board’s inclined to put in place a system of punishment that would require students to pay restitution if their threats resulted in evacuations and other disruptions that are expensive as well as distracting, because law enforcement has to be called. Students who were caught might also have to do community service and would face long-term suspensions.
Not surprisingly, there are legal complications. An attorney with the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University says students who make threats against schools already face criminal charges and might be order to pay restitution. She wonders also that if the schools set up their own penalty system, would students be without legal protections they have in the regular courts.
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It’s not an invalid point. The system might better focus on community service penalties, to be carried out at the school in plain sight of other students, if a student admits wrongdoing or is processed through the courts. Having students see that there are consequences, embarrassing consequences, for those who disrupt the school day might be as good a deterrent as any.
This is no small matter to Raleigh police. If they’re called away, for example, to answer a threat at a school, doing inspections, talking to students, locking down a school for a while, it takes them away from other duties, duties that might include protecting the very lives of other citizens.
At this point, it appears the policy needs more contemplation. It’s problematic for the school system to get in the business of crime-fighting, however justified it may be. There must be punishment, and that punishment should frustrate and alarm students who might be tempted to engage in destructive shenanigans themselves.
But the imposition of fines, for example, could be a problem in that poor students’ families couldn’t pay them, and thus would have to make amends in other ways, and affluent students’ families might simply pay the fines with their children not learning much of a lesson. The last thing the school board needs is to get itself mired in a legal dispute, which would itself be costly.
Let’s have the board focus on those community service penalties, which would hit all students the same, and perhaps consider long-term suspensions, which can in effect wreck a student’s entire year, as the most severe penalty. This seems the most practical route.