Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cruel and Unusual Punishment in Public Schools?

Here are the facts of the offense:

Three middle school students have been expelled after a pornographic movie was shown during a social studies class. Baldwin County Assistant Superintendent Terry Knight says while the teacher had her back to the class, a student showed an inappropriate film with no audio on a D-V-D player. Knight said when the teacher discovered it, she reported it to the principal at Bay Minette Middle School.

I admit my first reaction was to laugh. Nevertheless, I will grant for the sake of argument that this is a punishable offense. Even so, is sending these kids to an alternative school for the rest of the year the best way to handle it? They did not hurt anyone or threaten anyone. They did not steal anything. They weren't selling drugs or carrying weapons. They were just being stupid.

Maybe they all had long records, and this was the last straw. If not, though, perhaps a more just penalty would have been enough time in detention to write a research paper on the problems of pornography, or something like that. That way they are penalized and also educated.