Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Bit Of An Online Storm

Almost two years ago, I wrote an essay about how silly Washington-area residents become when even a flake of snow falls. As I said in that essay,
"We Washingtonians have a love-hate relationship with snow. All adults love the beauty of a local winder wonderland, and we teachers, as do students, love getting the day off “due to inclement weather.” The Washington area sometimes shuts down at the very threat of a flake! Other times, when only a few inches have come down, I’ve not had to report to work, only to be out and about later in the day, with absolutely no problem.

"Truly, however, Washingtonians simply can’t drive in the white stuff, particularly if a mere inch covers the road surface...."
Every winter, school officials in the Washington, D.C. area have to "make the call," that is, decide whether or not to open at all, open on time, or close early. As a former principal in a private school and now a teacher of classes of homeschoolers, I have long been in the position of "making the call." Sometimes my call has been correct, sometimes not.

I "called it" correctly last Thursday, January 17, 2008. Then again, I had an advantage in making my decsion because classes for me that day did not begin until late morning. Public school systems, on the other hand, have to "make the call" much earlier, usually by 5:30 A.M.

Last Thursday, not a single flake fell until around 10:00 A.M. Therefore, Fairfax County Public Schools decided to open on time, possibly with the thought that an early closing might be necessary, although I don't know for certain. In my view, Fairfax County's decision to open was the correct one, even though the afternoon commute home was problematic.

Predictably, once the snow began to fall in earnest and the roads became slick within an hour, the recriminations began. This time, however, the situation took a rather intense turn. From this January 23, 2008 article in the Washington Post (emphases mine):
Snow days, kids and school officials have always been a delicate mix.

But a phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator's home last week about a snow day -- or lack of one -- has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students' First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

It started with Thursday's snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj "Dave" S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt's wife.

"How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody's house and complain about it," Candy Tistadt's minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase "snotty-nosed little brats," and near the end, she said, "Get over it, kid, and go to school!"

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it -- a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students' online networking, it's harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori's call and Tistadt's response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student's actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted....
I don't personally know Kori, but according to the Washington Post, he is a cream-of-the-crop student:
Kori, a member of the Lake Braddock debate team who said his grade-point average is 3.977, said his message was not intended to harass. He said that he tried unsuccessfully to contact Dean Tistadt at work and that he thought he had a basic right to petition a public official for more information about a decision that affected him and his classmates. He said he was exercising freedom of speech in posting a Facebook page. The differing interpretations of his actions probably stem from "a generation gap," he said.

"People in my generation view privacy differently. We are the cellphone generation. We are used to being reached at all times," he said.

Kori explained his perspective in an e-mail yesterday to Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier. Regnier said, also in an e-mail, that Kori's decision to place the phone call to the Tistadts' home was more likely the result of a "civility gap."


Kori said that he was called into the principal's office to discuss the matter but that he was not punished.
I rather imagine that, as a member of the debate team, Kori is one of those students who knows how to make a case for a particular position.

According to the article,
"It's really an issue of kids learning what is acceptable and not acceptable. Any call to a public servant's house is harassment," Regnier said in an interview.
Read the entire Washington Post article.

My question to you: Who has shown more civility — the student or the adults?

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posted by Always On Watch @ 1/23/2008 08:28:00 AM