Talk about missing a teachable moment.
A South Fayette High School student, frustrated by what he said was persistent verbal abuse by classmates, secretly recorded his harassers to prove his complaints were legitimate. When school administrators found out about the electronic evidence, they responded in a way that can best be described as shooting the messenger — they threatened sophomore Christian Aaron True Stanfield with a charge of violating the state’s wiretap law and then settled for a disorderly conduct citation.
There’s a lesson, all right — the wrong lesson.
It is true that, in Pennsylvania, it is illegal to record another party without consent, but rather than wielding that big hammer against Christian, they should have shown more interest in helping him.
It’s impossible to accurately assess what took place in Christian’s math support class, and that’s the district’s fault, too. He has one view, his teacher has another. The recording could have shed some light, but administrators forced Christian to delete it.
Last month, District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet found Christian, 15, guilty of disorderly conduct and fined him $25 plus court costs, a decision that was appealed.
A voice of reason in the fray was that of District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who said Wednesday that his office would withdraw the charge against Christian. On Thursday, Common Pleas Judge Robert C. Gallo signed the order.
Why didn’t school officials apply the same common sense to the situation in the first place? In a statement, the district said it “takes all allegations of bullying and harassment seriously, and addresses them timely with the utmost care and sensitivity.”
Christian’s legal issue has been resolved, but that was only a side-effect of his real problem. School administrators need to create a safe environment by assessing student behavior in context and dealing with students’ concerns without making scapegoats out of anyone — whether they're the targets or the perpetrators of bullying.
South Fayette failed this test.