Sunday, March 5

The First Little Columbine of Spring

Thursday: Johnson County Sheriff's deputies arrest four fifteen-year-old students from Center Grove High School after a fellow student overhears two of them conversing on the bus, plotting--allegedly plotting, as they say on teevee news--an armed takeover of the school, possibly on Friday. They are being held on preliminary charges of juvenile delinquency.

(Adding to my personal distress: we have two nephews at the school, and every last newscasting hairdo in Central Indiana pronounces the word deputy "Dep-a-dee". So does every law enforcement official. And naturally the story involves several "Stu-dants," plus it just happened to occur on the same day as some vital medical update involving mercury, or "merk-a-rhee". I was actually carsick by the time the half-hour ended, and I was on my couch.)

Friday: The Indianapolis Star adds several intriguing details. What seems to be the first thing on everybody's mind is that the prosecutor will seek to try the boys as adults. This seems, if not outright bloodthirsty, at least a tad premature to me--at least insofar as the public interest, if not the prosecutor's actions, go--and I have a relative at the school and a wife who's a teacher. After all, we are dealing with fifteen-year-olds and an overheard plot to take over a school. Obviously we can't take chances with that sort of thing, but, just as obviously, once they're locked up we might begin by concerning ourselves with their grasp on reality instead of our fantasies of them doing hard time.

According to the Sheriff, a locker search didn't turn up any weapons, but "at least one of the students had access to guns." I love how this becomes a sudden shock to people, an American with access to guns. However could that happen?

The Sheriff also reports that there were no specific threats to harm anyone, that the only name that had been mentioned was that of the principal, whom they may have intended to take hostage. He adds, "These kids were mad at student athletes for making fun of them. That's one of the motives that has surfaced. "

Anyone hear bells ringing somewhere in the distance? Let's ask Principal Matt Shockley:
"I'm not highly familiar with those individuals," Shockley said at the news conference. "Certainly it's a little disconcerting to know I was a part of (the plot)."

No, Principal Shockley apparently hasn't heard much beyond his own name. This is eerily reminiscent of one of the things that angered me most in the aftermath of Columbine, where Principal Frank DeAngelis was all over the news saying he didn't know Klebold or Harris or their Trenchcoat Mafia, despite the fact that a picture of their little clique had appeared in the school yearbook the previous year. Granted, Klebold and Harris were seniors, not freshmen or sophomores, they were apparently coming to school dressed like extras in a music video, and at 2200 students Center Grove is about twice the size Columbine was. But get out of your friggin' office and interact with students! This is something my wife and her cohorts talk about all the time: school administrators have become like corner-office CEOs.

Maybe you are not "highly familiar with those individuals", Mr. Shockley. Do you know any student athletes? Do you know anything of what goes on in the hall, or the cafeteria?

Two things round out our Friday coverage. First, the comment of Sheriff McLaughlin:
"This is something that doesn't happen (in Johnson County) like in Marion County or other urban counties throughout the United States."

Johnson County, Marion County's southern neighbor, is one of the Doughnut counties whose growth has exploded in the last twenty years, in part because of white flight from the school system. It's basically a large stretch of subdivisions, strip malls, and farmland waiting to be converted into one or the other. It's precisely where this sort of thing happens, Officer. You can look it up.

The second: in the dead tree edition of the Star the story appeared on the front page below the fold.

Saturday: Now we're above the fold, with a headline asking, "Is bullying behind school plot? Some students dubious about motive cited for alleged takeover plan." The three students interviewed for the story thought bullying was not widespread.

That would be a senior forward on the basketball team, and two girls.

So I guess that's settled.

The story also notes that the student council sponsored "Kindness Week" just last week, and that the school takes part in the state Athletic Association's sportsmanship program. The Athletic Director says no one had brought bullying by student athletes to his attention.

Why do these sound like alibis? And why do we meet up with Principal Shockley again, this time as he addresses the student body on Friday over the intercom?

I sure hope he didn't have to strain himself reaching for the mic.

Really now, what sort of thing would be required for you to actually meet face-to-face with students? Gunplay? Would it have to be in the hallways, or does the parking lot count too? Is it too much to ask that you pull every athlete out of class, sit 'em down in the bleachers, and read 'em the riot act about bullying, guilty or innocent? That you know your students, know who the troublemakers are, take steps to avoid something which has been a national and a professional concern for at least a decade? It doesn't matter whether the plot or the bullying behind it is real or pure fantasy. It's an issue that calls for a loud, clear voice, not a wimpy CYA or an intercom message, or a bunch of white officials saying this sort of thing is only supposed to happen in "urban schools".


Anonymous said...

Sounds like my high school principal. Never saw the guy until graduation day. His name was A.J. Hayes. Some wags on the school paper started calling him A.J. "Flash" Hayes, partly on the theory that really he was around, he just moved so fast that we couldn't see him. There was an 8x10 of him on the newspaper office bulletin board -- someone painted wings on the side of his head with white out.

Ahh. Memories...

Anonymous said...

I'm stuck in the middle of Iowa because of the job; how did you manage to find yourself in such backwoods?

Anonymous said...

I'm particularly fond of the "This is the kind of thing that doesn't happen here..." line at post-crime press conferences. I don't really get the point of it, other than making the speaker look like a complete idiot. For starters, the entire reason that the idiot is saying this is because the thing, in fact, just happened here. While I suppose it has a "no one could have imagined airplanes being used as missiles" ass-covering quality that thinking people know is pure bullshit, it's still about as pointless an observation as one can make in these circumstances. (Not to mention, as you pointed out, it's also usually completely incorrect, especially in this case, what with the suburban roster of school shootings, etc..)

As for coddled athletes and school bullying, can you say Glen Ridge?

Anonymous said...

Amen, Riley. Amen.

Anonymous said...

is it just me, or does the comment about it "not happening here", but rather it happens in "urban" areas not sound like the Sheriff was saying it something done by school systems full of "those people", you know, the brown ones??

Anonymous said...

i go to Columbine and i see our principal EVERY DAY!! Thanks for the assumptions though.