Making Lenois: Name-calling

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 20, 2002


I’ve written more stories about violence in public schools than any other subject during my brief tenure as a reporter in St. John the Baptist Parish. I’ve done my best to address everyone and anyone directly concerned. I’ve spoken with school board and administration officials, people in law enforcement, school principals, faculty, disciplinarians and peer mediation program organizers, as well as parents themselves to provide as objective a viewpoint as one could possibly have on an issue that is so particularly one-sided.

I mean, no one out there is in favor of school violence, right?

Some seem to think we members of the media are. In recent conversations, both myself and my colleagues in the media have been accused of unfairly, even inaccurately, reporting on the violence problem in schools. Not all the fight incidents are related, for example, and articles have portrayed them as such. Or by listing the number of arrests, we’re inflating the problem, because sometimes it’s the same student being arrested again and again.

Does anybody feel like these clarifications lessen the seriousness of the issue?

Juveniles – defined in Louisiana as below 17 years old – are protected from having their names connected to criminal acts. This is a good thing, I believe. Publicly stigmatizing a juvenile is going to do very little to cause their repentance. Given a teen’s generally rebellious nature and peer pressure, they may even feel inclined to do something worse.

Which is exactly why providing privacy for juveniles should not run contrary to the opportunity for the rest of the community to understand the issues at hand. I very seriously doubt the parents of kids in public school are getting the news about fights from the papers first. We can’t report on the news until the following day at the earliest. By that time, their own child has come home and regaled them with tales of what they saw, or perhaps just overheard, about how student ‘x’ beat up student ‘y’ and then student ‘z’ took revenge.

Thinking that these problems will go away just because we don’t report on them borders on denial. How else to explain one principal who clenched up when I inquired about an 18-year old student bringing a knife onto school grounds? They said they would have to check with administration before talking with me. When I followed up with administration, they said the principal hadn’t attempted to contact them at all.

How else to explain a school administration member’s reaction to the notion that I might write a story about a blatant example of child abuse in the community which I personally witnessed? Said member approached me at a board meeting, slammed his hands down on the table and said, “Tell me you’re not going to write a story about that (student).” I replied that was up to me and my editor. To which he replied, “that was a community issue, not a school issue.” (We decided not to write the story for the very reasons I listed above about juvenile privacy.)

I attended the school board’s discipline committee meeting Thursday, when the board members began reviewing the infraction and consequence policies in the student handbook for the 2002-03 school year.

As I sat in the corner, the teachers and principals in the seats surrounding mine carried on their own hushed conversations, passed notes back and forth, and commented under their breath while others took their turns.

All of which would probably fall under Student Handbook Infraction No. 10 – Classroom Disruption – and call for a parental conference.

I really would rather be at the tree plantings, Easter egg hunts, and the special visitor events at the schools that I also do my best to cover. I really would like to think happy assemblies and test scores are all there is to school life in St. John Parish.

But it isn’t. To pretend otherwise is to do a disservice to the parents and the students. No one wants to open up their newspaper one day and read about a student death due to campus violence. Only to ask, how could this have happened?

CHRISTOPHER LENOIS is a staff reporter for L’Observateur. He may be reached at (985) 652-9545.