Public schools are under assault these days.
Teachers are denigrated, curriculums are subject to legal nitpicking and governmental edicts, funding is being drained off at the altar of school choice.
And, of course, there are actual assaults, the sickening drumbeat of school shootings and patently unserious solutions such as arming teachers and teaching children triage skills.
It’s a toxic stew of second-guessing, denigration and the very real specter of physical danger that adds to the challenges of teachers already being forced to play the role of nurse, counselor, mediator, security guard, you name it.
It ain’t easy.
And it ain’t going to get any easier when there’s a self-inflicted wound to tend to, as we feel is the case at Smoky Mountain High School.
We’re proud of our school, from the kids to the janitorial staff to teachers and administration. But this week we are pressed, sadly, into the ranks of the second-guessers when it comes to certain decisions made by those handling the reins at our flagship public secondary school.
To recap: Seniors had an opportunity to engage in a school-sanctioned prank, which they did, and some returned to the school afterward, evidently engaging in some non-sanctioned toilet papering and zip-tying some furniture.
And then the hammer dropped. While the seniors in question will be allowed to participate in graduation exercises, “each student will be held accountable with the legal charges filed,” JCPS Superintendent Dana Ayers wrote in a letter to students and families.
Sylva attorney Jay Pavey who is representing some, “perhaps all,” of the seniors involved, said in a meeting with school officials last week that such a decision is “extremely over the top given that there was no damage or anything of that nature. If they had gone in and busted up stuff and broke things, I would not be saying a word, but they simply pulled a prank.
“Their egregious act is that they toilet-papered some of the hallways and they took some chairs out of a classroom and zip-tied them, and that was the extent. Nothing was damaged, nothing was broken, no one was hurt. And as a result, the school administration feels the necessity to file criminal charges against these individuals.”
Students painted something innocuous on the Spirit Rock in front of the school, a tradition that probably started a few days after God made rocks.
As the sun rose Wednesday morning, a Google search for Smoky Mountain brings up this story ad nauseum.
The Herald is a law-and-order newspaper. Sure, we’ll tee off on an unnecessary speed trap or pointless law with the best of them, but public safety and a peaceful community are the coin of the realm in this corner.
Neither, as far as we can tell, were remotely in danger in this incident.
One of the most disappointing aspects to us is Ayers saying she is “disheartened by the community uproar.” We feel Ayers should be proud to be superintendent in a community that supports its kids and stands behind them.
The facts on the ground at this moment give every indication that this is a set of circumstances that could’ve been handled with a “press pause” moment, perhaps some community service. Instead the tact seems to be “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
Charges are on the table, and we have a social media firestorm and a lot of unwanted, unnecessary, national attention. More details may emerge that make this look like a Solomonic decision. But from what is public, and judging from the reaction of outraged parents, we doubt that will be the case.
And to be sure, details will emerge. What could’ve been handled quickly and judiciously is, with charges pending, a story that won’t go away. Social media is guaranteed to step in and fill the void with details, correct or not, a graduation gift sure to keep on giving.
As this plays out in coming days and weeks, we expect a great many lessons, mostly unpleasant, are in store. This is a story tailor-made for armchair pundits of all stripes to weigh in on, a malleable tale that can show we’re too harsh/too woke/whatever.
All over what appears to be the moral equivalent of soaping the fountain downtown.
Pavey said the District Attorney’s office relayed to him that the matter would be settled via community service, and that he had asked the school administration if community service had been considered, he said. Told no, he asked “But you could?”
According to Pavey, the response was, “Yes, but we’re not going to. Because we want to teach these children a lesson.”
We’re not sure exactly what lesson that would be. But it’s a lesson we fear will not make Smoky Mountain stronger.