Precinct 333

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Disruptive Conduct Or Discrimination?

James Herndon, a student at Pacific High School in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, has been suspended for wearing lipstick and eye makeup to school. The school claims that his makeup is distracting, while James has trotted out the usual array of liberal claims of sexism, religious discrimination and violation of freedom of expression.

In what is shaping as a battle between conformity and self-expression, Pacific High School has suspended a ninth-grade boy for wearing lipstick and eye makeup.
Officials are calling it a violation of school policy, which they seemed unable to find in writing.

James Herndon, 16, repeating his second year at the school, and his mother, Valerie Wallace, say James has been wearing black lipstick and red eye makeup the entire time he has been enrolled at Pacific. He also wears his hair in a dyed-red mohawk with the sides shaved. But that was not cited as part of the reason for the five-day suspension, which was imposed Monday.

The youth said the makeup expresses religious beliefs he shares with his mother, a Wiccan priestess in the neopagan religion based on northern European beliefs in the supernatural.

James also said the suspension is sex discrimination and violates his constitutional right to free expression.

Now before you think that the school is simply being unreasonable in its demands for conformity, please be aware that this is how James has been going to school.

And lest you think James understands he occupies a different place in the pecking order at school that the faculty and staff do, look at this comment.

"If I can't wear makeup,' James said, "then the girls or the staff can't wear makeup either.'

Uh, wrong, James. You are a student. A different standard of conduct and different set of rules apply to the staff than applies to the students. It is not up to YOU to make that declaration. Of course given your mother’s clear lack of respect for the school’s authority over matters of school disruptions and safety issues, not to mention her failure to prepare her child to operate in a society with certain social norms.

When James returns to school Monday, he will wear the makeup with his mother's blessing. "My son shouldn't change the way he is.

"After my divorce from his father, he became very depressed, and wearing the makeup makes him feel good,' she said, adding that the boy's psychologist and psychiatrist encourage him to express himself.

I’m hoping to hear that this kid is suspended again if he shows up in the same attire. His appearance constitutes a distraction in the classroom and a potential safety hazard on campus.

You may wonder about the latter point, but I can explain. As a teacher, I need to be able to determine at a glance whether or not someone at my school of 2300 students belongs there or not. I’m able to quickly tick through a number of dress code issues that help me narrow the field – things that include a ban on male facial hair and earrings, and visible piercings on any student. If someone is wearing a hat or bandana, they get confronted, too. There is also the school ID on a chain, but those are often not visible because of coats, sweaters, or the angle from which a kid is seen. A kid who showed up dressed as James is in the picture would be quickly hustled into an administrator’s office to be dealt with as a flagrant violator of the dress code or an unauthorized presence on campus. It is part of why we have so little violence on our campus, especially compared to some neighboring schools with similar demographics.

Now the ACLU is backing this kid and his so-called parent. I’m betting they lose. That appearance is so distracting that it would be a source of disruption in class. The law they cite is intended to protect gender-benders from being harassed, not permit kids to wear clown makeup.

And if mom doesn’t like the policy, might I suggest that she homeschool?


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