Okaloosa Schools: Hypocrisy On Display

By Karl Denninger
March 01, 2011 2:52 PM

Why aren’t Ruckel Middle School students allowed to sit with who they wish at lunch? What values are Okaloosa District schools actually teaching our kids?

I had to ask myself those questions after my daughter was given detention by Ruckel Middle School for merely crossing the lunch room floor and sitting with another student.

On 24 February I met with the Superintendent of Schools Ms. Tibbetts, Principal Ms. Goolsby and Assistant Principal Mr. Whiddon.

I spoke about my high school years, relating how easily a school administration can lose the respect of the students and the possible consequence of that. Respect, you see, is earned — it’s not owed.

The Principal came up with four objections as to why the students couldn’t choose where to sit in the lunchroom on their own: “they might miss the next class,” “they might not clear the table of their debris,” “there are cliques in middle school” and “we have students with food allergies.”

I asked how many kids had missed their next class when open seating was allowed and pointed out the fact that I might have to FOIA that information. Given that tardy slips are a common feature in schools and attendance is taken, there is a record. That is, if there ever was such a problem. I don’t believe it, to be blunt, and said so.

Further, cliques are a part of life. We choose our associates every day. And students who fail to clear their tables can be appropriately disciplined.

As for the food allergies, there’s a solution to that of course. You set aside one table for kids with food allergies and prohibit the common things there, the most serious of which are allergies to nuts. Oh wait, the school district already has to do that, right? These sorts of allergies are real, but punishing everyone in the class by making them sit against their will for something beyond their control is not only inappropriate, it’s Kafkaesque.

There was no resolution offered by the superintendent or the school principal. Mr. Whiddon tried to argue there was a student led representative process about things like seating assignments at lunch. I pointed out the administration had previously admitted the students voted for open seating, but the policy was unilaterally changed by the administration, thus revealing the illusion of a student’s say in policy. I also pointed out that this process was like presenting a petition in the former USSR, or to Mubarak before he was deposed. Mr. Whiddon didn’t like that analogy, and the other administrators were unwilling to take responsibility for claiming there was a representative process in the student council when there in fact is not.

Clearly, there was no intent to move on the school’s part. I remained steadfast that these sorts of policies are self-destructive, disrespectful of basic human dignities and indefensible on the plain facts. Further, this not a countywide policy; Pryor Middle has open lunch seating.

But then the funniest thing happened.

My daughter and I attended registration for her high school, which she enters in the fall. One of the first items presented to both parents and incoming students in the auditorium was a program called “The Nest”, which is an opportunity for the kids entering high school to mingle and hang out with one another — and with upperclassmen — during the summer months. The first reason presented to attend? So you will have some idea of who you would like to sit with, and at which table, in the lunchroom on your first day in high school.

Excuse me?

The peanut allergies, the late class attendance, the lack of clearing of tables by the students, the cliques that are found in middle schools and the inability of perfectly-competent staff members that the school district pay a handsome salary to keep order in the lunchroom all suddenly disappear in a high school with more than twice the enrollment of the middle school literally next door when a student becomes a mere three months older?

Ruckel, drop the invented nonsense and do the right thing. Recognize fundamental human rights, including the right of peaceable assembly and conversation. Rights you should be teaching and honoring, not abrogating.

Let the kids sit where they’d like and talk to whom they want during their lunch period. Punish real wrongdoers, not everybody. Teach real responsibility to our kids.

Karl Denninger is a resident of Bluewater Bay, a well known financial analyst, and author of the Market-Ticker.