Monday, January 20, 2014

In Loco Parentis

I've heard of people losing their day jobs when it's discovered they've done porn, but it looks like a high-school student has been kicked out of school for doing so. Queerty and several other gay news sources are reporting Cocoa High School senior and Sean Cody model "Noel," has allegedly been suspended and will not be allowed to graduate from his Florida high school, after several of his gay porn videos made their way to his principal's desk. A Reddit poster claiming to be the cousin of one of "Noel's" classmates also claims that "Noel" was allegedly "severely bullied" by classmates and suspended for 10 days when his extra-curricular activity became known.  According to the Cocoa High School Student Handbook: "When a student's actions are disruptive to himself/herself or to the school as to violate law, Board Policies, or school rules, the student may be suspended by the Principal or designated representative. Suspension dictates that the student shall not be allowed to attend his or her regular classes or school-sponsored activities for a prescribed number of days not to exceed ten (10)."

The suspension also means he will not be able to graduate in June.  According to the student handbook, ten unexcused absences (which a ten day suspension counts as) mean that the student will automatically receive a failure from absences/failure to attend in all of his classes for the semester.  "Noel" got severely bullied and, instead of helping him, the school will not let him graduate due to him causing a "campus disturbance."  While some students are defending Noel and promising to protest his treatment, the principal is threatening "to automatically expel any student who joins in."

Regardless of how you feel about an 18 year old high school student in pornography, is it the responsibility of the school to punish him for activities outside of school?  I think the question comes down to the legal responsibilities of school's in relation to "in loco parentis."  The term in loco parentis, Latin for "in the place of a parent"" refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. It allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit, although not allowing what would be considered violations of the students' civil liberties.

As an eighteen year old, this young man has full access to his civil liberties and his school should not be able to punish him for something that happened outside of school.  Schools have increasingly taken over the responsibilities of the parents of children.  Instead of parents teaching their children responsibilities and  morality, parents are leaving this up to the school.  However, it is not the school's responsibility to be the parent.  Where was "Noel's" parents when he was off filming pornography in San Diego where Sean Cody is based?  If the parents did nothing to stop this, then why does the school get to take over where the parents failed.

To further explain "in loco parentis," the first major limitation to "in loco parentis" came in the U.S. Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), in which the court ruled that students cannot be forced to salute the American flag. More prominent change came in the 1960s and 1970s in such cases as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), when the Supreme Court decided that "conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason - whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior - materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech." Adult speech is also limited by "time, place and manner" restrictions and therefore such limits do not rely on schools acting in loco parentis.

Private institutions are given significantly more authority over their students than public ones, and are generally allowed to arbitrarily dictate rules.  However, Cocoa High School, located in Cocoa, Florida, is part of the Brevard Public Schools District.  Therefore, Cocoa High School is not protected as a private institution, and thus does not hold the same rights as a private institution does when it comes to legislating moral behavior.  

The most significant legal test came from a 1969 Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, in which a school suspended students for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School). In Tinker, the United States Supreme Court defined the constitutional rights of students in public schools by overturning the students' suspensions. They did say, however, that when a student's speech interferes substantially with the school's educational mission, a school may impose discipline. The problem with this decision lies with the interpretation of how "interferes substantially" is defined, since there is subjectivity in this criteria. Tinker is now being cited in off-campus cyber-bullying and YouTube cases when a disruption is caused in the school building due to the aftermath of these incidences.  I assume, this will also be used if "Noel's" suspension is challenged legally.

Justice Clarence Thomas has argued that Tinker's ruling contradicted "the traditional understanding of the judiciary's role in relation to public schooling," and ignored the history of public education. He believed the judiciary's role to determine whether students have freedom of expression was limited by in loco parentis. He cited Lander v. Seaver (1859) which held that in loco parentis allowed schools to punish student expression that the school or teacher believed contradicted the school's interests and educational goals. This ruling declared that the only restriction the doctrine imposed were acts of legal malice or acts that caused permanent injury. Neither of these were the case with Tinker.  Nor should they be the case with "Noel's" punishment.

The main problem that I have with the whole situation is that the school is trying to be the parent, when it is the responsibility of the parent to handle the situation.  Compound that with the fact that "Noel" is over eighteen years of age, then he has the ability to make his own decisions, at least legally, though his parents should be more active.  I have no idea what "Noel's" family situation is, but whatever it is, I do not believe that it is the school responsibility to be his parent.  I deal with students day in and day out who have little parental guidance, and the parents expect us, i.e. teachers and school personnel, to act as the parent and guide their child.  I am not saying that it is not the responsibility of teachers and school personnel to help in guiding a child, but the responsibility is ultimately with the parents.  "Noel" is not the one who should be punished, but it is his parents who should have to be the ones held responsible, not an eighteen year old kid.  No matter who mature an eighteen year old believes he is, he still needs guidance.

Sadly, "Noel" has learned the hard way the consequences of doing porn, but obviously, he is not shy.  I would have never had the gumption to pose for porn when I was in high school, and I expect he will find a way to deal with this.  Many young porn models perform in order to make money for college.  If reports are correct that Sean Cody models usually make $4,000 per scene and "Noel' has filmed at least five scenes which amounts to at least $20,000 toward his college fund.  However, if he isn't allowed to graduate, will he even be able to attend college?  Ultimately, I think the school overreacted in their decision.

P.S.  If you are not a fan of gay porn or but "Noel" looks familiar to you, it is because I used his picture for my "Snow Day" post about two weeks ago.

UPDATE FROM CBS Tampa Bay: School officials have reversed their decision and "Noel" has been allowed back to school.

Local 6 quoted school officials who say the decision to expel was wrong and that they've finished their investigation.

"No child would ever be suspended for a job that they have outside of the school environment," said Michelle Irwin, a spokesperson for the district.

"In this particular case, we had an investigation, which is now complete, and the student is welcomed to come back to talk to Dr. Sullivan about his educational options," said Irwin.

I will have more on this tomorrow.  I want to do a bit more reading and see how much of the story I can get put together for Wednesday's post.


SEAN (The Jeep Guy) said...

What gets me is that the school is punishing the victim or the object of the disturbance and not the actual persons creating the disturbance. If they insist on suspending him (and what kind of policy automatically results someone not being permitted to graduate?) they should also suspend the ones harassing him.

JoeBlow said...

Sean, I agree with you. The nicest thing I can say about the school's policies are that they are fucked-up. Schools in Alabama require students to make up unexcused absences on Saturdays, but there is apparently no such policy in Florida. I don;'t see that this kid did anything wrong, yet he is being punished because the school believes they have a moral obligation to be the parent. Instead of "Noah" being punished, why are the kids who actually caused the "disturbance" not being punished?

Anonymous said...

Grrrrrrrrr....drives me crazy. You said it best, and I can't add anything but I AGREE WITH YOU!

Peace <3

JoeBlow said...

Thanks, Jay.

silvereagle said...

The school and its administration are flat out analyzed it correctly and I agree.

Cocoagirl said...

In all honesty, this school is more in the lower income side of town. From what i've heard, he was helping out his mom financially, which is why he did what he did. But I believe that the school is wrong. Now, because many students have protested, any student involved in the protest will not be allowed to graduate. What happened to freedom of speech? Their protest is a right and the school has taken away that right by giving their speech consequences.

RB said...

I agree! BUT -- Where the H**L are the parents???

JoeBlow said...

Thanks, silvereagle. You are the legal eagle, so I trust in your judgement.

Cocoagirl, from what I understand of the Tinker decision, the students have the right to protest, whether the school says they can or not, as long as it is a peaceful protest.

RB, I did read that "Noel" did this with his mother’s knowledge. They were in desperate need for money, and the kid really wanted to help and supposedly they knew the consequences. How much of that is true, is subject to debate.

Travis Crockett said...

I understand that the school has backed down on this. True?

Anonymous said...

Towleroad Update refers to this link: article

Peace <3

Amanda said...

I agree! Hopefully he will be able to graduate and move on. It's still not right what though what the school is getting away with.

JoeBlow said...

Yes, Travis it is true. I will be posting a full update tomorrow on my blog.

Thanks, Jay.

Amanda, apparently the school is getting away with it, but had to back down from the suspension to do so.