How about some “consequences” for anybody who isn’t 16 and powerless?

Reversing the pointless, idiotic ruin of a young girl is rightly the top priority of most people following the Kiera Wilmot case. But put that aside just a second. Of all the grotesque aspects of this case — and they are difficult to fully count — one sticks most in my craw

Explaining the expulsion, Polk County School head flack Leah Lauderdale said: “Unfortunately, what she did falls into our code of conduct. It’s grounds for immediate expulsion.”

That’s fine. Bureaucratic and cautious, but fine. But then she couldn’t resist sticking in the knife further. “We urge our parents to convey to their kids that there are consequences to their actions.”

First of all, for a certain class of kids in drug war, stop-and-frisk, zero tolerance America, consequences lurk everywhere, all the time. Ask Trayvon Martin. Not something they need to be taught. One of America’s greatest myths is that our kids are coddled and spoiled by positive feedback. Look around you and listen. It’s open season on the young. Every day. Most especially the poor and the brown — who make up a big portion of the 65 percent of kids who go traditional schools in Polk County.

And moreover, who in this county — in this school district — has standing to teach that lesson about consequences to Kiera Wilmot, who had apparently made it this far through open season America without even a blemish to her name?

Let’s just review some facts about this school district’s and county’s educational and public leadership:

  • The head of facilities was convicted of taking bribes in 2011. Apparently, it was going on for years under the noses of our School Board and administration. No one got fired or unelected because of it. And of course, the people accused of bribing him got off because prosecutors screwed up the indictment. Wonder if that monumental blunder came with any consequences.
  • We have a predatory charter school system that shamelessly, openly manipulates its enrollment and then brags about its “success.” There are no consequences for failing to teach the kids it fails it teach. The consequences are all for the kids and the teachers who take on the responsibility of teaching them at other schools. This charter school has a sitting Florida House representative on its board.
  • The former superintendent sat impotently for years while factions of adult stakeholders across the county went at each other like they imagine bickering children do. And you know who you are. Who knows how much damage they did to morale and direction at every level. No consequences. She retired for health reasons. Full pension, I’m sure. She earned it.
  • For years, the director of charter and magnet schools was allowed to have jurisdiction over her sister, who is the principal at the county showcase magnet school. No consequences.
  • When a group of athletes illegally transferred from one school to another to play football, state Senator Kelly Stargel was so interested in consequences that she fought to change to rules to let them do it. I’m sure she’ll get right to work on rewriting Florida’s stupid zero tolerance laws because of Kiera’ case. Right after she’s done trying and failing to grade parents, trigger them, or get rid of their alimony. Consequences? She’ll get re-elected.
  • And for good measure — although not exactly a school district issue — the good leaders of Polk County ran a major university out of the county to replace it with a half-built building that looks like an upside-down rotting cow. Consequences? For the Welches, maybe.

That’s all in just the last two or three years. And of course, it’s all metaphor for the country at large, which is big on “consequences” that flow downward through class and power.

And that brings us back to Lauderdale, an heiress of the local agricultural aristocracy. I wonder if she would have been arrested and expelled for making a water bottle go pop back when she went to school? Right. Consequences.

This story really didn’t break out for a couple of days. I missed it at first. It might have died if Lauderdale had made the district’s position banal enough. But I think that “consequences” line rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. At least that’s what I seized on, and I’ve seen many comments in various places saying the same thing. It’s one thing to say laws and rules are inflexible and leave the district and police no choice. (I’m sure that’s false, by the way. Discretion gets used every day.) It’s another entirely to justify the inflexibility as a positive good through some moralistic smack talk. There is no lesson for anyone to teach or learn here.

And now everybody from the Huffington Post to Andrew Sullivan thinks Polk County is populated by bureaucratic sociopaths. If you’re a flack, it’s your job to calm stories, not exacerbate them. How’s she doing? You think there will be any consequences for that incompetence?

The war on kids, particularly those attending traditional public schools, is the challenge of our time. It manifests itself in many ways. And I write about them repetitively. I make no apologies if it gets annoying. Most people agree I’m annoying. I’m 41-years-old. I’ll probably be dead in another 41. Maybe a lot sooner. I don’t care if people like me or think I’m a jerk. But I sure hope to spend some large portion of what’s left of my time getting between some of the powerless kids-these-days and some of the ridiculous adults arrayed against them.

5 thoughts on “How about some “consequences” for anybody who isn’t 16 and powerless?

  1. Billy – thank you for pointing out the idiocy of this whole situation and bringing to light some of the corruption/incompetency/authoritarianism that pervades this county. Polk’s law enforcement agencies (county/city) demonstrate these poor qualities as well and they all need to be held accountable.

  2. thank you for this splendid bit…
    you made me go back to the haunting memories of growing up there…
    i loved the citrus aristocracy comment, it brought all the sexism racism classism back in its full glory…
    i snooped a peak at Leah’s photo and i will now need weeks of therapy for the memories of the classism and callous disregard for the lesser it evoked…

  3. Thanks for putting that so well. The state of children in Polk, particularly in the legal system, is deplorable. Sitting in the Juvenile courtroom is like watching a Charles Dickens nightmare. I’ve never seen such incompetence in my life. We’d do just as well to save salaries and put up cardboard cutouts.

  4. I agree completely, the Kiera case is really part of a war on kids, one that harms especially those whose parents are neither affluent nor savvy.

    Also note that “there are consequences to their actions” is a euphemism for “we will harm you” that serves to obscure the moral CHOICE made by some administrator to inflict harm on a kid. These bureaucrats always pretend they have no choices.

    It’s a shame your article is unlikely to be read widely, not even by those searching for info regarding the Kiera case — I myself discovered your article only when someone included a link in a comment in The Ledger.

  5. David, In the world where sites resort to many methods to bring in audiences, Lakeland Local has stayed old-fashioned. We attract new readers by word-of-link. Please tell your friends to save us on bookmark or feed. That way they’ll get every new Billy Townsend commentary as soon as it is published.

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