Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

Knowing the rules

This time last week, I was up in arms over the plight of Maia, the East High freshman who had been recommended for expulsion from school over an alcohol-related incident. By now, given the media coverage, many of you are familiar with her story. In a nod to peer pressure, on the morning of a field trip this past February, Maia foolishly bought two water bottles with a few ounces of bourbon in each to school. She kept one in her backpack and gave another to a friend. Then, based on an anonymous tip that she might have pot in her possession (which she did not), Maia admitted to school authorities that she was harboring the booze. She was at first suspended, and then recommended for expulsion from the school district.

Finally, in humane and sane fashion, the Board of Education voted last Monday night to allow Maia to return to school on Tuesday.

That same evening, precisely to avoid the destructive nature of "zero tolerance" in the MMSD's current guide to school discipline, the Board also voted to adopt a new, hopefully more effective, Behavior Education Plan for elementary and middle/high school students for the 2014-15 school year. It's focused on a more contemporary understanding of student conduct and utilizes concepts like restorative justice. It also curtails the types of violations that can result in automatic suspension and expulsion, like Maia's.

So I want to say thank you to the Board for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story. Because before the Isthmus article broke online last Wednesday, I'd never thought for a second, despite having three kids in public schools, about the Code of Conduct for our district.

And I don't think I was the only one. Perhaps Maia's mom, Melissa Meyer, said it best last week, "We're fighting this not just for our daughter, but for all those who don't have a voice," she says. "I had no idea how focused on punishment the district's policies are."

Now I am not saying the MMSD was deliberately, in any way, trying to keep their former "zero tolerance"-based Code of Conduct from us parents. I have no doubt that the Lord-knows-how-many-page-long document was free and accessible on the MMSD website. If I'd taken the time I could have easily learned to distinguish what was a level one infraction from a level four offense. But I didn't. And I'm pretty sure I never would have without last week's media attention on a real story, about a real kid, who did something really wrong and really got screwed in a screwed-up process.

If you look at this week's news though, you'd think a trip to the Final Four, as big a deal as it may be, is the only thing happening of importance in town. But this couldn't possibly be true. There have to be more stories like Maia's out there, and not just of injustices, but of fantastic things as well, that no one knows about. So I want to take this moment to ask parents to keep Melissa Meyer, Maia's mom, in mind when wondering whether or not to share your stories with the media.

Because, right or wrong, the rest of us parents can be pretty clueless to issues and policies out there that affect all kids. And your willingness to go public with your accounts and opinion helps to inform the rest of us.

I, for one, am always willing to get up-in-arms about stuff. But I am very dependent on the insight and experiences of other parents to let me know just what it is I need to get up-in-arms about.

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