Several months ago I received an e-mail from my daughter’s school alerting me to contact the school should a pair of crutches turn up. Seems someone stole an injured student’s crutches from the gym. At first I thought this was a prank but then I realized the crutches had to have been missing for a while for the school to send out a community-wide e-mail. Who on earth would steal a pair of crutches from an injured student who couldn’t walk without assistance?
Prior to the crutch incident and during a home swim meet, my daughter’s winter jacket was stolen from the locker room. In hopes of getting the jacket back, I e-mailed the coaches of the visiting swim team and asked if someone “inadvertently” took my daughter’s jacket possibly mistaking it for their own. To the coaches credit, I received an e-mail back within 20 minutes letting me know they would check with the team members and get back to me.
A week later, I received an e-mail from one of the coaches apologizing for the stolen jacket, that the jacket had been recovered and that he would be returning the jacket to my daughter that afternoon. Although I was grateful the jacket was “found,” I was perplexed as to why the coach would be returning the jacket. Shouldn’t the student who took the jacket return it along with an apology? I e-mailed the coach back, thanked him, but also told him that it wasn’t his place to return the jacket – that the student who stole the jacket should return it. If my daughter stole someone’s jacket, I would make her return it, apologize, and try to make amends – not to be self-righteous but because it’s the right thing to do. I didn’t get a response.
Several weeks later, my daughter came home from school and told me that her whole swim team found out the jacket was stolen by the captain of the opposing swim team and that because the girl was a senior, a fast swimmer, and had parents that loyally supported the school, nothing happened to her. Of course, we don’t really know what happened to her or if the school ever applied sanctions but we do know she was still the captain and part of the swim team a few weeks later at the end of season championships. What message has been sent to other students? When I brought this up to a teacher at my daughter’s school, she told me that behavioral sanctions are left to the school where the student attends and are generally not known citing privacy concerns. Ah, privacy.
When my daughter was attending school in Switzerland, she witnessed students being expelled after one stealing offense. Afterwards, the student body gathered together in the auditorium where staff would explain what happened and why to demonstrate the consequences for serious infractions. The school officials didn’t care who you the student was, how much money the family had, or who the parents were…if a student committed a major violation, the student was expelled. No privacy, no minimizing shame, and no second chances. I’m not convinced this was always the best action as kids and teens make mistakes – it’s part of growing up. Most teens deserve second chances but they also need to be held responsible for their actions so they learn to do the right thing – especially in a leadership position. The emphasis should be on taking personal responsibility, being given a second chance, making amends, and moving forward.