A Little Humanity Goes A Long Way: School Admins, Police Officer Ditch Policy-Limited Thinking To Make A Difference In Teens' Lives

from the ...-in-a-sea-of-cyborgs dept

As we’re all perhaps painfully aware, school administrators and bad cops are frequent targets here at Techdirt. Those covered here are usually the worst of the worst, not necessarily representative of the whole. But there are plenty of lesser evils that go ignored every day, the end result of too much power and bad incentives. Adding cops to schools has exponentially increased the number of terrible decisions being made.

But sometimes, those in these positions of power use it in a positive way. They’re perfectly capable of bending rules or showing compassion, but it honestly seems as though those efforts are few and far between. They’re also less likely to receive widespread coverage. So, here’s one from each category, showing what happens when cops/administrators decide to be human beings, rather than just the public-facing interface of an emotionless system.

The first story (sent in by an unnamed Techdirt reader) details what one school did to make sure a student’s mother could see her daughter graduate before she succumbed to a terminal disease.

Battling cancer for four years, Maryland mom Darlene Sugg set a goal — she wanted to see her daughter Megan graduate from high school.

Last week, as her condition took a dire turn, Sugg got her wish with the help of school administrators who threw together a bedside cap-and-gown ceremony for the teen a month before the official commencement date.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room Thursday as Glen Burnie High School Principal Vickie Plitt read a speech she had written just for Megan. Darlene Sugg managed to open her own eyes during the touching address.

The school administrators not only allowed Megan Sugg to hold her own personal graduation program early and off-campus, but it sent its own personnel to ensure it happened with all the dignity of the on-campus ceremony. Instead of deferring to policy and/or expressing a reluctance to make exceptions (out of the irrational fear that granting one means granting exceptions for everyone), the school honored this mother’s request.

The importance of showing compassion can’t be overstated. Schools tend to be places that prioritize standardized testing and the ability to line up in an orderly fashion over helping individuals explore their own strengths and weaknesses. A cohesive whole is almost always preferable to a school full of unique humans. That a school would go out of its way to allow a daughter to share perhaps the proudest moment of her life with the woman who raised her speaks volumes to the rest of the student body. Hopefully, this will also reach the eyes and ears of other administrators who may find themselves in situations requiring a more human touch (and preferably not by limiting exceptions to those involving imminent death) and push them towards closing the policy manual and addressing the person as a person, instead of as a problem.

The other story details the efforts one police officer made after being contacted by a teen who simply didn’t want to go home.

A few weeks ago, 13-year-old Cameron Simmons called Sumter police because he was upset after fighting with his mom. The teenager told police he didn’t want to live in the house with his family anymore.

Officer Gaetano Acerra responded to the call.

“I said, “You have it good, you have a roof over your head,'” said Acerra.

Officer Acerra’s first response may have sounded a bit glib. And perhaps it was. But when Acerra escorted the teen back to the house he wanted to escape, he saw something that changed his outlook.

The officer brought Simmons home, and realized the boy didn’t have a real bed. In fact, Simmons didn’t have nearly anything he needed for a bedroom.

On top of the tense relationship with his mom, Simmons had nearly nothing to call his own. Acerra took it upon himself to change that.

A few weeks after the call, Acerra showed up at Simmon’s house with a truck full of gifts.

“Bed, TV, desk, chair, a Wii game system that somebody donated to me because of the story I told them,” said Acerra.

Acerra made Simmons’ home a better place to be. Even if Acerra can’t fix everything wrong in this teen’s life, he at least gave him something to sleep on and a few things to make spending time there a little more pleasurable. He also gave Simmons his personal phone number and told him to call him anytime.

Acerra said he didn’t do it for personal acclaim but simply because “it was the right thing to do.” Once again, humanity shines through. Acerra could have simply returned the child to his home and walked away. If Social Services hasn’t delivered the case to the PD, there’s no reason to care what Simmons’ quality of life is. Runaways tend to be picked up on truancy or curfew charges, rather than asked why they would choose to leave a situation that at least puts “a roof over their heads.”

A few extra minutes with a troubled youth exposed one of the reasons Simmons wanted out. There was not much “home” at home. Now there is. And if things unrelated to his new bedroom setup get worse, Simmons has someone he can call — a one-man rescue unit named Officer Gaetano Acerra.

It’s understandably hard for police officers to view citizens as anything more than another potential problem. That’s the nature of the job. Arrestees are hardly distinguishable from the rest of public — the only difference is the handcuffs. Not every criminal looks like one. But Acerra’s willingness to do just a little more than what was required (return child to home) changed that child’s life, and possibly Acerra’s as well.

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Comments on “A Little Humanity Goes A Long Way: School Admins, Police Officer Ditch Policy-Limited Thinking To Make A Difference In Teens' Lives”

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OldGeezer (profile) says:

Good to see good cops getting some attention. I still think most cops are dedicated, not abusive and honest. I have known some of them. The actions of a small minority usually get all the press. Just yesterday there was a story in the Wichita Eagle of a cop that saved a little boy’s life:

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

People being nice to each other is under-reported.

But, of course, it’s hard not to imagine what would have happened to the troubled kid if the FBI got hold of him. It’s not unknown for them, if they find a vulnerable young person at risk of entering a life of crime, to invent a criminal gang for them to be a member of, and give them as much encouragement and equipment as needed to commit a staged crime, so they can then arrest said kid and then tell the world how good they are at catching horrible criminals. Well, if the kid is brown, anyway.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I realized my grammatical error after I posted it but this site does not let you edit your posts. Your phrasing is what I meant to say.
I have known several cops over the years very well and every one of them were ready to lay their life on the line to protect us. None that I have known have ever fired their weapon. A friend in Memphis came close to being shot but his K9 dog saved him.

Whatever says:

Nice article, but...

Those are nice and touching stories, but they really don’t have all that much to do in relation to the issues at hand. Giving a student a “private” graduation for a dying relative is nice and wonderful, and has absolutely NOTHING to do with issues of violence or misbehavior inside the school.

The cop’s story is similar. It doesn’t change the day to day reality of many schools. It shows only that, yes, contrary to the black and white way you try to paint the world here, that people are in fact human and do understand the implications of the world around them.

There is a huge difference between going above and beyond because you can, and the day to day reality of administering a school or keeping it safe for the majority of the students.

It’s a truly impressive attempt to make a point, but most certainly also an overblown failure – even though the actions of the school and the cop are commendable and deserve to be highlighted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nice article, but...

I don’t often answer here, but because you seem to want to cheapen these tales by trying to tie them to your talking points, I’ll tie them into mine, very briefly.

Humanity will prevail over corporate, soulless scum like you and those who pay you. It will take us some time, but in the end, we have a future.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And kudos to the men and women described in the articles above. I’m genuinely moved, hence irritated by your attempt to lessen the impact and make this about your agendas.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Nice article, but...

I gotta laugh. I ain’t corporate (I work for myself, thanks), I ain’t soulless (I flew half way around the world – literally – for a funeral recently), and nobody “pays me” for anything I post online.

I don’t cheapen the tales at all. Read my comment. I said very clearly “the actions of the school and the cop are commendable and deserve to be highlighted.“. I just think it’s a poor quality play to try to twist their good deeds into an attack on our ailing educational system, which is under attack by the very people it is trying to teach.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Nice article, but...

I didn’t shit all over the story, I shit on the poorly executed attempt to paint these actions as the flip side to schools that applies rules evenly in all cases. It’s called “agenda writing”, where what you write is about fulfilling an agenda and not about just telling the good story.

This story would have been much better had it been just framed as good things happen. No need to try to paint everyone else as evil in doing it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Nice article, but...

No need to try to paint everyone else as evil in doing it.

I didn’t see any attempt to paint everyone else as evil. And it’s not at all a stretch to portray “cops and school administrators doing wonderful things” as the opposite of “cops and school administrators doing terrible things”. Seems right on target to me. Whether you agree that the cops and administrators are actually doing terrible things is a different issue.

zip says:

Re: Nice article, but...

I think that this puff-piece may have been due to all the hate-mail Tim regularly gets on his bad-cop articles. Every newspaper’s ‘community’ section is filled with these kind of stories, so it’s not as if it’s some kind of rare perspective that never gets told. Isn’t this what’s known in the journalism trade as “fluff” — filler material for when there’s not much real news to write about?

OK, Tim, you’ve now made your amends to the vociferous minority who probably don’t even bother to read your articles before reflexively complaining about them. Now maybe it’s time to get back on track. (Or has Techdirt reversed course, and from now on will be singing the praises of revolving-door bureaucrats and big-money lobbyists? … because, after all, they do nice things sometimes too!)

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nice article, but...

  1. if you have not noticed, i am FIRST in line when it comes to bashing the thin blue line of liars…
    2. it may be tim’s aim to ameliorate some of the stark and horrifying stories of police abuse, so what ?
    3. on the other paw, these Police Officers exhibit MUCH of the qualities i wish ALL kops would normally demonstrate: i have NOTHING BUT RESPECT AND ADMIRATION for such PEOPLE who don’t let the badge and the gun distort and cheapen their views of humanity…
    4. i don’t disagree with whatever’s general point, BUT, i think it is VERY important to recognize the public servants who actually protect and serve such that that behavior STARTS to become the norm, not the exception…
    5. while it is HUGELY admirable the efforts the one Police Officer took to help out the kid, it is too much to expect they can ‘save’ every kid/person in this fashion… one would hope (is there any left?) that our society’s safety net would work better to help people like this out, but its all ‘we got ours, so fuck you jack…’
Anonymous Coward says:

And for every one of these "good cop" stories...

…there are a hundred of these:

Teen dies after Taser shock at Baltimore Hospital

“He said two officers responded and saw the teen struggling with five security guards, and one of the officers struck the teen with a Taser.”

Five security guards. Two police officers. Such pathetic wimps and cowards and weaklings that they couldn’t subdue one teenage boy but instead resorted to torturing him into a coma and killing him.

Yawn…just another day for bullies and thugs in blue.

2zen2 (profile) says:

This happens more than you know

Working for a school district, I see a lot more than gets reported. I see school secretaries buying boxes of socks and underwear (yes, underwear) because they know these are items their kids frequently don’t have. I see principals put together out of their own pockets back-packs full of food for kids to take home over the weekends. Because the only time these kids eat is at school and well, there’s no school on the weekends. I see that most of the administrators in my district are one-on-one mentors; they give time and energy to these kids and frequently just an ear to listen to what’s happening in the child’s life. Yes, there can be bad teachers and administrators and enforcement of policies that don’t make sense and federal regulations that strangle us in the cafeteria. But looking under the surface, you see a lot of unsung heroes who just want to help our students.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: This happens more than you know

that’s right…
my better half is a teacher, and she spends MULTI-hundreds of dollars every year out of her own (our?) pockets to buy -mostly- school supplies for the -mostly- poor students at her school…
she gets them bottles of water, snacks, etc when they have activities, testing, or field trips…
and when the books come up missing (probably lost, not stolen, as they don’t have good reading habits), she shells out of her own pocket to replace them…
she takes extra jackets on field trips when she knows kids don’t have them…
and -most important of all- she ALWAYS makes time to talk to ANY kid (not just her students) who comes by before class, or hangs around at lunch, etc…
she spends 5-10 hours extra a week at school after it lets out, she goes to most of the after-school games her students are playing in, and spends AT LEAST 20-30 hours a week at home grading papers, inputting grades, making class lessons, emailing students and parents, etc…
AND she is MORE the norm than the exception (though she is exceptional)…
ANYONE tells me unionized school teachers are the problem with our education system, gets a kick to the gonads from me…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This happens more than you know

Nope, teachers are NOT the problem. Administrators are the problem. If they would just STFU and let teachers, you know, teach, then a lot of the issues would evaporate.

As in: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/23/kindergarten-teacher-my-job-is-now-about-tests-and-data-not-children-i-quit/

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: This happens more than you know

Yup. My sister is a teacher and does much the same — although mostly what she buys is food for the kids who show up so hungry that they can’t concentrate on classwork.

The real crime in this? These aren’t poor kids. These kids are mostly from upper-middle/lower-upper class homes. Many parents, however, fail to provide breakfast (or even breakfast money) to their own children.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good to see...

Even though these stories may be out weighed by all of the bad ones, it is still good to seem some happy news reporting every once in a while to break up the train of shit that normally runs through the news.

Be thankful for at least a few reprieves folks. Yes we know that problems have not be resolves, but recharging the batteries has value!

Anonymous Coward says:

“As we’re all perhaps painfully aware, school administrators and bad cops are frequent targets here at Techdirt.”

Only cuz that’s all you know how to write about Cushing.

BUT…..it’s promising to see you start pointing out the positives too. Not every cop or administrator you see is a spawn of the devil. It’s good to give credit where it’s due. Kudos to you for this story just like the Lancaster story.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Because you neglected to quote my quote that put my comment in context.

It’s not any better in context. Regardless of what you were replying to, you just said “You don’t know how to write about anything but X, but it’s nice to see you write about something other than X.” And apparently you still can’t see the problem with that.

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