The Nemec’s Story
I want to thank and congratulate the Katy Independent School District for introducing my twelve-year-old daughter to the cold, uncaring, unyielding, and unjust bureaucracy that makes up our school system.
On September 24 of this year (2003), my daughter arrived at Garland T. McMeans Junior High and entered the seventh grade gym, where seventh graders are required to assemble before the first bell when they are allowed to go to class. She was greeted by a group of other seventh graders and an eighth grader. Eighth graders are supposed to assemble in the eighth grade gym. This is a policy that I suppose is a standard for safety reasons.
The eighth grader offered my daughter a Diet Coke. Being thirsty and trusting, my daughter took a sip. There was a strong and strange taste to the drink and my daughter quickly handed it back. She asked what was in it and the kids told her it was spiked with alcohol. Shocked my daughter turned and walked away from the group.
As the day wore on, the police and other administration officials summoned her to the office where she was questioned relentlessly. Being raised to be honest, she told the truth about what had transpired, also including that she was NOT aware of the alcohol content before she took the ONE sip. She believed she was helping the administration to find out the truth and to help the eighth grader seek help. She did this not knowing that what she said would be held against her.
For this, she was issued a ticket without explanation for Minor in Possession of Alcohol by Consumption. The Assistant Principal then told her to clean out her locker because she was to be suspended from school.
With her head spinning she was told to sit in the office where she was alone and frightened for approximately two to three hours! When, we, her parents, were finally contacted and informed of the situation, we went to the school immediately to get her. Once there, our daughter told her side of the story, which we believed, because doing something like this on purpose was so out of character for her and she had no reason to lie. The administrators told us of the suspension and that my daughter would be spending the next three months at the off campus Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) at the Opportunity Awareness Center (OAC) located in Katy.
We were appalled! In asking about the steps we could take to contest this punishment, the Assistant Principal explained to us that we could appeal, but that it would not do any good, as he said that in his experience the school decision has never been overturned. Again, shock set in. After all, why is the procedure in place if it does no good for anyone? Other parents encouraged us to proceed, because if ever there was a first time for a reversal, this should be it.
Our daughter has an excellent scholastic and disciplinary record for the two years she has attended McMeans. She is with a competition dance team that takes up five hours each week of her time, on top of the two games a week in which she cheered as an all-star cheerleader. With this hectic schedule, she maintained A’s and B’s and kept her conduct in classes and school functions as “Satisfactory” or “Exemplary.” Because of extracurricular policies, she was removed from the squad.
The assistant principal testified she was a good student and kid and he’s never had a problem with her. Parents of other students called our home telling us they were just as horrified as we were and they wanted to help us in anyway they could. They wrote letters testifying to her character, and letters about what their own children had seen and knew of the event. All of these efforts were in my daughter’s favor. These testimonies were ignored and of little importance to the principal, Dr. Susan Rice and assistant principal, Mr. Przerpolewski of McMeans. They had their own negative witnesses they chose to believe over the positive ones.
What message is our school system sending to these kids who are the overachievers, the leaders, the good hearted and good intentioned kids? Are you telling them for all they have achieved and strived, counts for nothing when something when they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time? Obviously, the answer is yes.
We followed all the guidelines for appeals that were available to us in contesting the decisions made by our school system that has destroyed our daughter’s life. However, the Assistant Principal had been correct in his prediction: Nothing came of our efforts.
My daughter was suspended for three days and then sent to the DAEP for 60 days. (You must keep in mind that A-school, which most kids use when referring to DAEP, we believe, is little more than an institution for incorrigible kids in need of behavioral modification and anger management.) During this period, she could not attend any KISD sponsored events (which meant she could not even go see her brother play football his senior year at high school or any theatrical plays that were put on by her friends), plus she was dismissed from cheerleading for the remainder of the year and also disallowed to try out even for next year!! That was approximately $700.00 wasted on uniforms and related expenses.
Additionally, she now has a misdemeanor on her record. Yes, another consequence we had to contend with, which meant a court appearance with the consequences from the judge: three months probation, six hours of an alcohol awareness class, and eight hours of community service, plus court costs. My daughter received the same punishments that the eighth grader who BROUGHT and DISTRIBUTED the alcohol received, except my daughter had a lot more to lose than her…she lost her good reputation, her good standing in the school, her cheerleading position, and her self-esteem. She has had to endure the humiliation and shame of being sent away to the “bad kids school”. She will be lucky to come out of all of this unscathed physically, undamaged mentally, and unscarred emotionally from the environment that our school district sentenced her.
All of this should not have been allowed to happen had the supervision been there in the gym that morning. Where were the monitors during all of this? The eighth grader should NOT have been mingling with the seventh graders in the first place, per their own policy. So, what is the school’s responsibility in this? What punishment does the school receive for allowing this blatant breaking of the rules?
Quotes in the newspapers have the Katy ISD communications director, Kris Taylor, saying ‘the school system takes the student’s disciplinary record into consideration, determining the severity of the penalties on a case-by-case basis‘. This has proven to be untrue in more than just our situation.
Then there is Billy Jacobs, director for safe schools with the TEA, saying “There is no such term ‘zero tolerance’ in our state law. It is up to schools districts to maintain local control and decide how far they want to go in their own codes of conduct.” The administration at McMeans told us time after time that their hands were tied.
Mr. Hartman, of the teachers’ federation, says that the more rigid and detailed the policy, the more chances for unintentionally punishing undeserving students: Hence, our ordeal.
This has been very hard for us because we believe that the fact of her not being aware of the alcohol makes her not guilty of any “crime”. If she had to be punished for admitting to taking the ONE sip, which appears to be the case, then let the punishment fit the crime after taking all things into consideration…not just handing out a “one size fits all” sentence. It would be easier to accept and live with – even if we didn’t agree – if those case-by-case standards were met.
The three appeals meetings were all a joke and only put on for appearance sake to try to pacify us, the parents, that they were reviewing their actions. We spent a lot of money on a lawyer which did us no good at all, and from the last meeting with the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent, Mrs. Betty Holland, we did not even get an explanation as to the why’s or how’s of the final decision that was made. It has since come to our attention that this is not the only unfair decision made concerning the ‘zero tolerance’ policy in which the administration of McMeans and other schools in our district has been involved. They take nothing into consideration concerning the child and their background.
I want to know what lesson you think is being taught to my daughter, or others, by isolating her from her school, her friends, taking everything away from her that means anything, and sending her to a ‘police’ institution where she:
(1)Has to practically disrobe each morning to enter the building through a metal detector;
(2)Where she is then scanned with the handheld metal detection device;
(3)Where she has to have a security guard called to her classroom to escort her to the bathroom;
(4)Again searched before leaving each day?
These procedures un-nerved me when we had to go to the “intake” process (as if admitting her to a prison): What do you think it does to an innocent 12 year old child that only a couple of days before was a carefree, high spirited, on top of her world little girl? I’ll tell you what it does: it scared the living daylights out of her to know that that’s where she’ll be spending her time afraid of the reasons why these procedures are in place.
What kind of people will she be mixing with? (Examples given me were kids that took weapons to school for protection by accident, or drug users also used by accident.) Will she be scared everyday she attends? Will I? The answer to that is yes, I will be. Not only for her safety but I’m also afraid of her losing all respect for a system that has taken all her good works and her dignity and tossed it carelessly away with little or NO consideration whatsoever like so much rubbish.
I fear she may become like some of the kids in the behavioral school because she has nothing left to strive for…it’s all out of her reach now. She will never be allowed to regain her lost position in the school community because of the sentence pronounced on her and the rules that are in place. The way an impressionable child thinks she may just decide what’s the use when everything I do means so little to the people in charge? I sincerely hope and pray that my child has the strength of character to get through this undeserved and unwarranted injustice that was thrust upon her.
It will be an absolute shame if this healthy, well-adjusted, good-natured child becomes one of those disillusioned children that wander aimlessly through life looking for the next piece of mischief to get into because she has no direction…not goals to attain. The school system has stripped her of these things.
Again, I hope that with the support and love of her family and friends she’ll be able to get back on track at some point once she is released from her prison and finds other goals and hopes for her immediate future. I hope that with the short sightedness this system has shown to her she will not become one of those sad, misbehaving, unfocused, troubled kids that people call no good. If this is what happens to my child because of the zero tolerance rules you uphold, then I say SHAME ON YOU…shame. You’ve shoved a bright, cheerful, openhearted, spirited, happy, loving, innocent little girl under a rug just to show that you rule with an iron fist…no exceptions made. That’s just a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I hope this kind of justice makes you proud to live in this country. You’ve succeeded in making everything that America stands for obsolete and insignificant. Congratulations!
Thomas and Cindy Nemec