Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Turdgate.

Usually, when someone does something Curmie-worthy, we can at least understand what was going through their minds, even if the reasoning leaves something to be desired. The first two Curmies were won by teachers who couldn’t cope with the ongoing pressures of dealing with special needs kids—they got frustrated and snapped; the third went to a principal who thought her school needed to prepare itself for the possibility of an armed intruder similar to the one who had just shot up Sandy Hook Elementary; the most recent winner needs team players in the classroom and more funding from the powers-that-be. That’s how they’ll justify their actions, at least.

But every once in a while, we bump into a story where somebody’s actions just make no damned sense at all. Such a story Curmie has decided to call Turdgate, because, well… In the tiny town of Gustine, Texas, an hour and a half or so southwest of Fort Worth, there was a problem: apparently someone had been leaving feces on the school’s gym floor. So, of course, the principal and the girls basketball coach herded the 4th and 5th grade boys and girls into separate rooms and made them drop their pants.

Wait. WHAT???

Eliza Medina: Pretty Clearly the Best Qualified Person
In Gustine, Texas to Be Superintendent of Schools
Alas, ‘tis true. There are quibbles about how far the kids were asked to drop their pants—“just a little” according to the district superintendent Ken Baugh, “Like... to where your butt is” according to 11-year-old Eliza Medina, one of the students subjected to this humiliation, and the loudest voice in protest of the outrageousness of the administration’s actions— but no dispute over the fact of the poopquest. Curmie confesses he doesn’t see a lot of difference between a creepy and illegal search and a really creepy and illegal search, but acknowledges that others—those with the intellectual acumen of a broken doorknob, for example—might see a distinction in that difference.

OK… we can agree that leaving excrement on the gym floor is somewhat less than cool, and that the custodial staff shouldn’t have to, well, clean that shit up. But we can all agree, too, that phrases like “probable cause” have meaning in our society, and that these mental midgets certainly didn’t have it about the entire two dozen kids… not that an even marginally invasive search without the presence of a parent would be justified even the authorities were pretty sure who the culprit was.

There are, in fact, significant philosophical objections to making any kid anywhere drop his/her pants for any reason, let alone one as flimsy as a 4 or 5% chance of being the culprit in a case of hit and run pooping. But I’ll let others make that case further than I already have.

Let’s talk pragmatics. Even assuming invading the privacy of a couple dozen pre-adolescents in the fond hope of capturing the legendary Crap Vandal is somehow justifiable in legal and ethical terms, what is to be gained by an exercise that is inevitably as ineffective as it is silly. Seriously, what were they looking for? Baggies of fecal contraband? Stains? (Ew.) A conspicuous lack of stains? What? What might constitute the “anything” sought by the school administration? Curmie literally has no idea (and Curmie is a grammar Nazi, so “literally” is meant… um… literally).

Curmie has come to expect school administrators—a minority, perhaps, but far too many—to be arrogant, to extend their clutches well beyond their legitimate jurisdictions, to adopt a condescending attitude towards the mere mortals who dare to question their right to fart in the general direction of constitutional rights and indeed of ethical values in general. But this level of outright stupidity really did take me aback. Violating the law in a fit of pernicious do-gooding is one thing, doing so for no identifiable purpose is another.

But no matter from what direction we approach the school’s actions, they’re ridiculous, hubristic, unconstitutional, irrational, and downright creepy. Maria Medina (Eliza’s mom) gets it right: “If you can't do your job or you don't know what you're doing, you need to be fired. You shouldn't be here.” We can start with Principal Alan Luker and follow up with Superintendent Baugh. (The former is apparently “on leave” now.) And then we divert a river or two through the Augean stables that are the Gustine schools. There’s a lot of manure there to be cleaned up in a hurry, after all.

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