Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cheesestick Incident: Seriously, Maury County?

Posted By on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Hey, Maury County,'sup? So, why is it pronounced "Murray" again? We don't say "Murray Povich." And why was one of your students indicted for stealing a cheesestick? Why wasn't this dealt with like the silly incident it was: a teen acting out, pure and simple. Did he brandish a weapon? Why did things get violent? I don't even know this kid — this Cortez Wyanna. But he went into a "restricted area" in the lunchroom at Columbia Central High School — which means he went back into the food prep area I guess. He took a cheesestick and didn't pay for it. When a lunch lady tried to take the cheesestick back, he grabbed her hand and took it back. He "resisted" when "confronted" by "officials" and was apparently charged with robbery. But then he was indicted on a bunch of lesser, misdemeanor charges: theft, disorderly conduct, assault. He was suspended and sent to alternative school.

Sure, we don't know how violent or aggressive the kid got or why. The comments at this link, seemingly from county locals, imply the student may have been on the free lunch program, and may have been hungry. Either way: He's got a funny name, he's a teenaged dude, he's attending school in Podunk Central, and he did something goofy. And those stats are a recipe for quite the special dish in a podunk county public school, and it ain't a free basket of tasty, sizzlin' cheesesticks. If I know my podunk counties in Tennessee as well as I think I do, if you've attended one public school in a redneck county in this state, you've attended them all. How would I know? Because I stole a cheesestick in high school, too.

OK, I didn't, and I admit that on this subject, I'm quite biased, because I was suspended — removed from actual school to a small shack behind the school where we could not speak for 8 hours a day — for the following: Getting sucker-punched at my locker before 3rd period by a 17-year-old 9th grader (didn't punch back), throwing a pickle (slice) in the lunchroom and getting caught chewing gum three times in 1st period. And that's to say nothing of the endless paddlings I was on the receiving end of throughout my lovely experience being educated in public schools in this state, one of which was actually for getting a drink of water without permission; another for writing my name in a friend's notebook. By the time I reached senior year, I had been punished for so many ridiculously trumped up incidents that, had I decided to grab a cheesestick for funsies out of the lunchroom, and had anyone dared to try to snatch it back from me, I'd damn well have "resisted" the "confrontation" as well.

But, seriously. It's a snowball effect. Once you're paddled or suspended one time, you're branded a troublemaker. Doesn't matter who, why or how, you're just going to get in more trouble from there on out, regardless of grades, intellect, intent, etc. Count on it. Someone cheats off your spelling test? It's assumed you let them. Someone hands you a note? It's assumed you wrote it. The son of a president at a local bank copies your sources for an English paper? Not possible, judges your teacher. Must of been the other way around. And to a delicate still-forming teenage mind, once you're labeled a troublemaker, there seems to be little point in trying to reverse the label.

Sure, there are many overworked, underpaid excellent teachers and administrators, but there are also many incompetent ones who liked the ideas of summers off with a year-round paycheck, and who are easily provoked into bizarre abuses of power when faced with situations that are, at worst, minor transgressions. There are many teachers who identify "warning signs" of "troubled teens" — wears all black! didn't do last night's homework! — and do nothing to investigate further but certainly treat them differently. Oh sure, I sympathize with educators who are at the mercy of litigious parents and increasingly blurrier lines about conduct. But I'm also inclined to sympathize with teenagers. Perhaps Mr. Cortez Wyanna had his fare share of minor incidents that had more or less snowballed into the Cheesestick Affair. But I could be wrong. He could be an evil predator we should be thanking Maury County for containing. In which case, thank God the streets are safe.

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