Nominees for the Seymour Skinner Award
Sometimes a school administrator is faced with the choice of making a big deal out of something or just ignoring it and waiting it out.
We rarely hear of the principals who choose the latter course because that isn’t the kind of decision that ends up in the news with a court case and quotes from the ACLU. Those kinds of principals are blessed with common sense and maybe experience, and they know that the best way to encourage kids to do something you don’t want them to is to come out strong against it, maybe suspend the kids to show you mean business, and probably end up making yourself look like Seymour Skinner.
Recently we had the Skinner-esque action against the Mississippi high school football player kicked off the team for wearing pink cleats to raise breast cancer awareness. Coy Sheppard’s 82-year-old great-grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, gave the pink cleats to him. “The more I hear about it [breast cancer awareness], the more I want to help,” the boy said. “If I could, I’d probably wear an all pink (uniform).”
One might think that pink cleats are an unusual gift, but my guess is that the color of one player’s cleats wouldn’t have affected the outcome of the game. After Sheppard was suspended from the team, the parents, of course, sued the district. He was reinstated, but had to sit out the next game because he wasn’t at practice because he was suspended. Make any sense to you?
Then there are the middle school girls outside of Philadelphia who wore breast cancer awareness bracelets with a common, if not school-approved terms for breasts. They had worn them for a month without incident, but then school officials discovered them and immediately banned them. The girls also found themselves banned from school dances. [As a side issue, I happen to agree with Peggy Orenstein’s take on this recent move to make breast cancer “sexy”: It is not only useless, but may even be harmful as it grossly misrepresents the disease. “Awareness” makes people “feel good without actually doing anything meaningful,” she writes.] Anyway, the parents, of course, sued.
Finally, for sheer idiocy and lack of understanding, I nominate the administrators at Silsbee, Texas High School who suspended a cheerleader for refusing to cheer for a basketball player she accused of sexually assaulting her. The family sued, of course, but the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cheerleader’s silent protest (when he had a foul shot) wasn’t protected speech under the First Amendment. Selena Roberts in Sports Illustrated, notes, “A school is supposed to be an emotional safe haven for all students, and educators should help, not harass, students in vulnerable positions.” You have to read the story.
In the meantime, my hat’s off to all you school administrators who didn’t end up on the news as nominees for the Skinner award. As I always tell aspiring administrators, “They pay you for your good judgment.”