Bonner Day: Past conduct comes back to haunt

Bonner Day

I think my worst nightmare has come true.

I have always worried about the permanent record kept of me in school. Teachers pointed out it recorded every act, good or bad, at school. I always hoped that the record would be lost or buried accidentally. After I had lived the straight and narrow for some years, I thought of returning to my alma mater and inquiring if I could be entrusted with the permanent record. I wanted it out of the hands of officialdom for my peace of mind.

But a recent complaint filed in Richmond is frightening. The American Civil Liberties Union says punishment guidelines in Richmond schools are too vague, allowing teachers to overly punish certain students in a discriminatory manner. Black students and students with disabilities were cited as unduly punished.

I can see it now, FBI and Justice lawyers interviewing students, parents, teachers, counselors, principals, and if necessary, janitors, cafeteria staff and crossing guards.

Teachers and principals in Richmond will be called in to defend their school suspensions. Remembering my English teachers, I’m sure the Richmond staff will survive the most rigorous third degrees. Using their permanent records, they will be able to defend the suspensions with ease. And to defend their policies, they will naturally point out that most of the suspended should have received even harsher punishment. All of these efforts, with costly lawyer fees and costlier government and school time, will be a waste. The schools can justify the cost of reviewing permanent records, however, by levying additional punishments on the students. They could even open the record books on all students and mete out punishments on misdemeanors earlier forgotten.

But this is what I fear. The ACLU and the Justice Department, angry for the egg on their faces, will try to recover by turning their agents and lawyers loose on other school districts. You already see the Justice Department investigating police departments across the country.

Lawyers everywhere disguise their defeats as complicated victories. The Justice Department lawyers will use the example of the Richmond schools to claim other students have escaped their just punishments.

Most of my teachers are deceased now, but there is still my permanent record. It is kept in Arizona, and with its dry climate the record book no doubt is as preserved as the day it was first created. Incidentally, Arizona is no favorite of the federal government for its successful role in a series of recent state-federal lawsuits.

Most of my errors range from lost or damaged books, unexcused absences, talking out of turn and talking back to teachers. But a couple, six at most, exposed to the predatory eye of a federal prosecutor, could result in jail time.

To keep my permanent record buried, I am hoping the bias complaint in Richmond is settled to the satisfaction of the ACLU and the Justice Department. I would not mind if they go away happy with a few teacher scalps on their belts.

But my experience with suspensions is that principals make them a last resort, after teachers have rounded up more than enough evidence. I was never suspended. In my school, when a student was suspended he had racked up a lengthy record that justified his punishment and much more. He usually was one step from what was called reform school. The teachers kept very accurate records, as they always reminded me.

So I am nervously watching the Richmond schools and their progress through this complaint. If Richmond wins, I may lose big. If they lose, maybe the Justice Department won’t go to other schools, including Morenci High in Arizona.

Bonner Day has avoided any severe punishment since high school. He lives in Shenandoah County with his wife and her cat. Email: bonner5@shentel.net.