Saturday, May 15, 2010

Terrorism? Really??? Or "Get Out of Our School!"

If this wasn't so over the top ridiculous, it might be funny.

A 14 year old Georgia boy has been charged with a felony (making terrorist threats) for a small (about 1 inch high) set of stick figures he drew on a paper in class. The stick figures depict one figure (labeled "me") shooting another stick figure (labeled with his teacher's name).

There is no question that his drawing the picture was both inappropriate and wrong. There is also no question in my mind that the school's response is so wildly disproportionate as to make me question why they would do such a thing. There has been no allegation of the boy attacking his teacher, bringing a weapon to class, or even of having formed a definite plan as to how he would accomplish the task in his drawing. There has been no mention of the school consulting with anyone else (the boy's doctor, their own psychologists, the police) to evaluate the situation as to how likely it was for the boy to be able to carry out his threat, much less evaluate the seriousness of the situation.

Many people threaten to kill their spouses every day. They very seldom get arrested, much less charged with making "terrorist threats".

So why would a school do such a thing?

My guess (and it is a guess, as there's been no statement I've seen from the school) is that this charter school where the boy is enrolled wants to dump this "problem student" from their school, and that they are using this as a convenient excuse. Many charter schools don't want to spend the time and money it takes to properly educate children with special needs.

This could end up as a case of "zero tolerance" gone wild, but I suspect that, in the end, the school will come up with some "compromise" that will entail dropping or lessening the charge, as long as the boy withdraws from the school (or accepts another placement they have suggested).


David said...

"the school will come up with some "compromise" that will entail dropping or lessening the charge, as long as the boy withdraws from the school"
Perhaps what was intended all along... It would fit the style of negotiation by "brinksmanship".

Anonymous said...

John Odgren

Anonymous said...

threats in school, are taken very seriously, because the worth of the school, estimating $10,000,000, is owned by the local taxpayer.

James Alenson is dead because nothing was done about John Odgren!

Schools first concern should be safety of all students, spectrum or not.

Club 166 said...


I don't necessarily disagree with what you have said. Unfortunately, the only thing that's died here so far is common sense.

I have agreed that to write the note was wrong, and needs investigating. I suspect, from the little I've seen, that the mother would agree. But before we start giving a 14 year old autistic kid (or any kid, for that matter) a felony criminal record, don't you think we could take a few days and see if this is REALLY a threat, or just pre-adolescent hyperbole fueled by adolescent hormones?

I have no way of knowing at this point, but I predict that this kid has no ready access to firearms, and no realistic plan of obtaining them. I don't think he's been practicing shooting on weekends, or stockpiling ammunition or the makings of a bomb.

All I'm asking for is a balanced look at the incident. One that makes a realistic threat assessment, and that doesn't just render a knee jerk, "one size fits all" reaction.


Mrs. C said...

Did you see that the child was reading the book "The Outsiders" in class? Hardly hearts and flowers, that stuff. Garbage in, garbage out, but I guess the school isn't responsible.

I don't know about you, but my kids don't read crap like that at home. My son "Patrick" was also asked to read garbage for his "gifted" class that went into great detail on marital rape, chastity belts, various smells as turn-ons, and a mom checking out her son's penis and comparing it to his dad's. And that was in the first 28 pages or so. I really TRIED to give the book a fair chance, but my.

Schools give out assignments like this and then expect children to not parrot that stuff back.

I would certainly expect him to be suspended for a few days and have to write an apology letter. I think you are right on track, however, Joe, with what you're implying here about the school wanting to dump an expensie "problem." Mind you, if this were a regular habit, I could understand an expulsion or virtual school, etc., but I don't see that in the background.

Blessings to you and your family. Have missed your posts.

Adoption of Jane said...

This is really rough for me to say, but.... I agree with Anonymous. However, I don't agree with being Anonymous when it comes to opinonated comments.

It is very upsetting to me that I agree because I consider myself an activist and an advocate of our community.

I also agree with Mrs. C the stuff kids are reading (dont let me get in to the blatant lies in History Class) is ridiculous.

The bullying by TEACHERS going on in school is so bad that at 42 I still get stomach aches thinking of my 3rd grade teacher who mimicked and berated me daily. The fact that my son was beaten ruthlessly and nothing was done until hundreds (look at my blog archive under bully) of bloggers protested in writing to the school. All these facts do not outweigh the tragedy if this picture played out into reality.

I am truly saddened for all parties involved. It's a tough call.

Adoption of Jane said...

Anonymous, I apologize, I just noticed your name.

My sincere apologies!

Anonymous said...

There is no question that his drawing the picture was both inappropriate and wrong. There is also no question in my mind that the school's response is so wildly disproportionate as to make me question why they would do such a thing.

Since Columbine and 9/11, a terroristic threat is a serious situation and has major ramifications down the road in litigation if the child does manage to later on hurt someone in school. Schools have to protect themselves and the local taxpayer, spectrum or not.

The worst that happens in this case, is if the child is found by the tribunal to have an interest in terrorist behavior this will result in the child getting more services, possibly a better educational fit, and that most important thing an appointed child psychologist to talk with, help with self-confidence and self-esteem, handling feelings. the proper way to handle anger, This in itself is a good thing for any spectrum child or not. If the child has no other problems with the law, at age 18, the terrorist threat is sealed and child doesn't have a record. If the kid has a problem, help will arrive. Not a bad thing! Remember that thing called early detection.

The above is standard protocol to any child who makes a terrorist threat in a school.

All children have the right to a *safe* learning environment.

Club 166 said...

@ Adoption of Jane,

Not to sound too confrontational, but I can't honestly believe that someone who considers themselves an "advocate" would blindly take the word of the school on this, without some sort of an independent investigation. Surely, as an advocate, you've seen these types of kids railroaded by the system before.

I'm all for safety, but so far I haven't seen anything that tells me this kid is anything NEAR a credible threat to anyone's safety.

@ 2nd Anonymous,

I don't think you've quite described the worst case. The worst case is that the prosecutor wants to make a name for himself, and uses the "terrorism" hook to cow the jury into convicting the kid as an adult, and sending him to a federal prison for 20 years. Psychiatric care (other than getting sedated at times) is almost non-existant in prisons. So he'll go to prison, be physically and sexually abused, possibly get HIV, and die. That would be the worst case scenario. What you describe is how the system is SUPPOSED to work, but very seldom does.

I work in a field where I have to stratify risks all the time. So far, I've seen no evidence of a credible threat posed here.

Yes, safety is important. But do you think this kid is part of Al-Quaida or some other terrorist organization? Really? Where exactly is the "terrorism" here?

Perhaps you don't have direct experience with autistic kids. As kids they are developmentally delayed, and also often lack the social "filters" that the rest of us have. So while it isn't right that this happened, it is perfectly understandable that a kid who perceived a teacher as being unfair might do something like this. As Mrs. C says, he should get a couple of days suspension, write an apology, and that couple of days can be used by the authorities to investigate how credible a threat he poses. My guess is that this is all nonsense.

No amount of authoritarianism can halt all school violence. Just ask the Chinese, who have had a couple of school attacks lately. What this situation calls for is a whopping dose of common sense.



OK, without knowing all the details of the situation, I'll take the soundbyte 'out' on this one and say that the school system should look at it's zero tolerance may wind up being zero tolerance for special needs students in its school system rather than zero tolerance for terroristic threats. Why did he draw this? Is he being 'terrorized' himself?

Anonymous said...

All children, spectrum or not, when they make a threat in school, something needs to be done. Spectrum or not!

I think you need to google how schools deal with "threats" now. A threat in a school should not be taken lightly, nor should a threat be dismissed because somebody has a dxes! Schools don't just have fire drills nowadays, students are taught "lockdowns"! Why is that?

Schools nowadays have a cop from the town assigned to the school district and have a presence in the middle schools and high schools.

The child made a threat. That kid spent time in anger drawing that picture. It is up to the tribunal to evaluate if this is an isolated incident or this child has done this before and needs help of a psychological nature.

Dxes is irrelevant when other childrens safety is involved.

Mrs. C said...

Anonymous, diagnoses are entirely relevant in assessing the risk to other children's safety, is I think the material point.

Club 166 said...

Terrroism n. The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

No one has convinced me that this kid's actions are for the purposes of furthering some ideology or political purpose. Which leads me to believe that the word "terrorism" is being used by the school district/authorities to itself strike fear into the community, by calling up thoughts of organized attack by those who would destroy us.

As to implying that schools should take threats lightly, I think that is a false argument. I never said that threats should be taken lightly. I said that possible threats should be evaluated as to how real they really are, then dealt with appropriately. If we view all potential "threats" as equal, we end up singling out 80 year old females for secondary searches at the airport, and leaving young males who have traveled to areas of unrest and bought their tickets with cash right on through.


Adoption of Jane said...

With great respect I do have to say even advocates have their own thoughts. It was a difficult comment to make. I feel saddened by my opionion. I also feel saddened about the growing infighting within our Spectrum Community. We all don't have to agree. When are people going to get it that everyone is in different stages of the Spectrum World. My son is only 3 1/2 I am not yet dealing with these issues personally. I can guarantee when my child is of school age my views will be completely different than as a parent of a toddler. That is the beauty of growth. I am no less of an advocate because of my opinion today. If anything I should be respected for not being afraid to voice it.

Club 166 said...


Somehow I knew after I posted that that it would come off as more harsh than I meant it. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to either belittle you or demean your opinion. Not that it's an excuse, but I'm a guy, and we tend to be a bit more "direct" than most women. As a parent thru adoption, I'm sure that we have many more things in common, than those that separate us.

I most certainly respect everyone's right to their own opinion. And I realize that we all have our own frame of reference, which informs and colors what we feel.

As I responded to the 1st Anonymous, I also basically agreed with him (that safety is job 1 for our schools). My concern is that we have an informed and intelligent pursuit of safety, and not just a knee jerk response that targets "the other" when they do something that isn't quite normal, but doesn't really threaten our safety.

Eihoreere (Peace).


Adoption of Jane said...

Thank you. I truly do enjoy your blog so I may have took it a little more personally as well.

Patrick said...

If I were in a mood to draw something Monty Pythonesque, I would hate to have my work characterized as the product of having spent time in anger drawing that picture.

Perhaps someone who posted above has better knowledge, but unless I spoke with the artist I wouldn't hazard a guess at their mood while rendering.

kathleen said...

I agree-the drawing was wrong. That type of behavior is unacceptable. However-I believe that how this was handled was over the top.
I can only speculate from this brief clip-and that is what scares me. Speculation. There are some people here who made a point out of the fact that the drawing was on a page of "The Outsiders"..What if this boy drew it on the page of the bible or the Koran? Would that make him a religious extremist as well? In the court of public opionion-it very well might.
Drawing this type of picture is wrong-for anyone. This boy has to be held accountable for it. If the school suspends him for this..well, that is their perogative. However, calling it an act of terrorism, charging him with a felony goes beyond reason. I agree with his mother in that there is a lack of common sense in this. I will be interested in hearing how this plays out.

Patrick said...

I hope the tribunal actually establishes who "me" was before proceeding too far. The story clip makes it sound as if mother knows this was his drawing, but I didn't hear a claim that he admitted to be the artist, yet. I will agree that the drawing was not a good choice, and that even if someone was joking around they chose a very bad place to doodle. If they were serious, then of course some counseling should follow.

How off topic? Chucky did something like this to get Alex in trouble in a movie, years ago.

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

Looks to me like authorities abusing zero-tolerance policies to engage in a not-so-subtle form of mind control. The world's out of control... nobody policing the powers that be, and we're now in a situation that was essentially predicted by Zimbardo... in the absence of supervision, anyone placed in a position of authority without having to be responsible can (and usually will) become a tyrant.

Yes, the kid's drawing was not a desirable behaviour but - what would it be about the teacher that brought about that behaviour in the kid? I wonder if the school have even bothered to ask that question... to be honest, I doubt that they even care.

I'm with Joe on this:
"No one has convinced me that this kid's actions are for the purposes of furthering some ideology or political purpose. Which leads me to believe that the word "terrorism" is being used by the school district/authorities to itself strike fear into the community, by calling up thoughts of organized attack by those who would destroy us."

Ed said...

I think that what the school has decided is in keeping with the goals of what US school systems in general are wanting to accomplish.

I often have difficulty explaining to people that any variation of how (which includes what) people think is considered officially in terms of best to worst. That translates into dangerous to non-dangerous.

Mental illness and developmental disorders are judged the same with this regard. The programs for these (including those for autistics) are mainly funded because they are seen to protect the public who is seen as worthy of protection from those who aren't. The more aid that is given to schools for kids with psychological or developmental issues the less tolerant they become and the more focused they become on protecting the children who aren't labeled that way from those who are.

Competency is related directly to danger. If someone goes to a competency hearing in the US what is judged is whether or not they are a threat to themselves or others.

Excused or unexcused often becomes the question in a hurry because the presumption of guilt is decided in a hurry.

When people are judged incompetent as an excuse for their guilt, they are in more danger in a mental institution than in a jail. In a jail, there is some understanding that you may have control of your actions, or that you have not committed a violent crime. In a mental institution, since there is none of that, the guards (which is still what they are) are automatically justified in however they treat you.

Focusing on all kids and teachers being protected avoids having to look at the problem. The kids and teachers without labels concerning their thinking are less vulnerable to abuse and have a better chance at the presumption of innocence because the system is geared toward protecting them from the others (or the othered).

Brett said...

If schools had had this attitude 30-35 years ago, I'd probably still be in jail for some of the things I drew and/or wrote. Obviously, that's all it was: drawings and stories. A creative outlet to explore my feelings.

If we aren't given a chance to express and explore our feelings, we are much more likely (in my experience) to act on those feelings. This is especially troublesome with the "bad" ones.

Anonymous said...

The commenter who denigrated "The Outaiders" is an ignorant hiney hole. "The Outsiders" is a classic piece of young adult literature. It has a very strong message about individualism, nonconformity and standing up for one's beliefs in a culture where the "haves" feel free to bully the "have nots."
Since time immemorial kids have been drawing graffito of detested teachers getting their just desserts. I recall with great fondness a sketch I drew of my third grade teacher, a hateful hag named Mrs. Digney, being blown to smithereens by a device which I carefully labelled "BOMM." If you were to visit the ruins of Pompeii you would find drawings on walls of the ruined marketplace of toga-clad teachers being stabbed by gleeful young students. It's just a way of kids getting their own back and I find it very psychologically healthy.

Bluejay Young said...

As a matter of fact, The Outsiders was written by a teenager. This fact was hidden from the public at the time because the publisher believed fewer people would buy the book if it were known to have been written by a young person.

And if Susan Eloise Hinton were to write such an honest book today, she might be put under observation for being "disturbed" as well.