An East Valley charter school student's three-day suspension for refusing to rat out classmates who brought alcohol to school has raised the ire of the boy's father — perhaps justifiably. But it also spotlights an important, and salient, point about school choice.
As the Tribune's Daryl James reported on Monday's front page, John Lopez, a 13-year old student at the Heritage Academy in Mesa, was given a three-day suspension even though he just said no when classmates offered some alcohol to him at school. Trouble is, he also just said no when asked by school officials to provide names of those involved in the alcohol incident.
John's father, Jim Lopez, is so upset that his son ended up getting the same punishment as those who brought the alcohol that he's been picketing the school and passing out leaflets criticizing school officials. Lopez says several parents have contacted him and agreed the punishment his son received was excessive.
But Earl Taylor, principal of Heritage Academy, said other parents have contacted him and agreed with his tough enforcement of school rules. Taylor pointed out that the school is known for tough discipline and tough academic standards, reflected in generally well-behaved students who beat state averages on standardized tests.
Lopez says the school is run like a dictatorship even though it professes support for democratic values and displays a copy of the U.S. Constitution in its lobby.
It should be pointed out, though, that the only schools in Arizona that operate close to democratically are regular public schools, which are governed by boards elected by the voters in the community. While charter schools are technically public schools, and receive tax dollars, they are operated by private entities; the whole idea is to give parents educational options other than traditional public schools.
It's certainly any parent's right to criticize administrators' handling of a disciplinary incident, as Lopez has done. But Principal Taylor is on solid ground when he defends school values that include truthfulness, even if it means ratting out fellow students. Taylor defended the policy by explaining: “If you have a society that just depends on police to enforce the law, you're going to have a police state eventually.”
Clearly, some parents like that philosophy, as evidenced by the school's waiting list. If others don't, they are free to move their children to other schools. That's the beauty of school choice.