New Jersey education officials have admitted that an African-American vice principal inappropriately punished 15 Hispanic elementary students in Camden. The principal forced the students in a fifth-grade bilingual class to spend a week eating their lunches while sitting on the gymnasium floor. This was "punishment" for behavioral problems in class.
Parents and activists claimed that the incident was another example of racism directed against Hispanics. State education officials, however, in a report released this week refute those allegations. Although the principal's actions were insulting and demeaning to the students, the report says they were not biased because similar punishments have been meted out to non-Hispanics.
Prejudice is not the issue; common sense--or the lack of it--is. I'm all for greater principal autonomy. I'm also for stricter discipline in the classroom. If students are disrupting a school's learning environment, they should be punished--and quite severely. Our schools have become way too lax in maintaining proper and respectful student behavior. But this principal's actions are beyond the pale. Besides hygiene considerations (eating off a floor is a sure way to contract unhealthy bacteria and germs), the punishment was degrading. These kids are not animals, and they should not be treated as such.
Whatever happened to principals notifying parents of students' disruptive, unruly behavior? If that doesn't do the trick, there are other tried-and-true measures, such as after-school detention, suspension, or if the students are especially bad, expulsion. In short, there are many effective ways to enforce discipline and order without resorting to barbaric humiliation. This principal, whose name has not been released to the press, should be reprimanded, and told clearly and unequivocally that such practices are unacceptable.