Editorial a disservice


To the Editor:

Forgive me if I appear unreasonable to you, but I find your unbendable opinion [Editorial : A disservice to community, school, and students, January 31] that, “[i]t is not possible for a reasonable person to understand in relative terms the philosophy behind the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s administrative reaction to two youngsters who have misbehaved,” to be, well, unreasonable.

More candidly, when considered in the context of all that has transpired in the printed articles, as well as in online forums, of your newspaper — beginning with the December 26, 2012 story, “Martha’s Vineyard high school athlete charged with burglary,” to the January 31, 2013, “Editorial: A disservice to community, school, and students” — several additional words come to mind; among them, ill-informed, disingenuous, careless, harmful, and malicious.

It is all the more disturbing that The Times professes to be mystified as to how MVRHS administrators have handled student discipline in two very different cases when the answers have been in large part already published on your own pages, by your reporters. Additionally, pertinent information has been provided in online comments (which regrettably are found squeezed between volumes of tactless posts, to put it mildly).

By now it is abundantly evident that the two recent disciplinary actions were taken against students involved in entirely different behavioral circumstances. One is a substance abuse case which occurred during a school-sponsored event and did not involve the legal system. The other involved criminal charges for allegations which had no school involvement whatsoever. Both raise important concerns with respect to standards of conduct for our students; however, I am not going to wade into these waters right now.

You claim to be confounded by the administration’s philosophical approach to their decisions in these two cases. What you are missing or choosing to ignore is that the philosophical component of the disciplinary process largely occurs in the establishment of policies, not in their enforcement. In these cases the administration followed established policies, MIAA rules, and state law. Folly and confusion you claim precisely which rule(s)/law(s)/policy did the administration commit this egregious foolishness while enforcing? Truth be told, you are wrongfully scorning people for administering policies they are required to enforce. Honest self-reflection by The Times over how it has comported itself, and I think the paper would point its finger of folly and confusion in another direction.

The community would be far better served by The Times constructively contributing to a process of evaluating policies and then reforming them (where possible). It is in this forum where philosophical debate must transpire. In fact, I do concur there is a need for a comprehensive review of school policies on student discipline, particularly in light of impending changes in state law. Bear in mind, however, there are three components which must be factored into such policy; state law, MIAA rules, and local contributions (incidentally, your editorial inaccurately reported that new state law will soon make punishment of the duration handed out in the substance abuse case unlawful. In fact, the law does not make the duration of the suspension unlawful). Inevitably there will be conflicts between the three components and some on the Island will be left believing inadequacies and inconsistencies remain. That said, we can and should do better, so let’s proceed to do so.

Regarding the contention by some that there is a history of imbalance in the dispensing of disciplinary policy, as I’ve stated elsewhere the administration is paid to make these decisions and they are accountable for the outcomes. After thorough investigation, if there is found to be a discernible pattern of unbalanced application/enforcement of disciplinary policies then, absolutely, the school board should act to address those responsible. But to call for action against the administration based on speculative, at best, innuendo is nonsensical and irresponsible — please get facts: What seems on the surface to be imbalance may well easily be understood by a comprehensive review of cases in question.

Instead, by drawing the conclusions you have with little substance to support your good penmanship, connected two entirely different cases which are governed by wholly different areas of policy, you’ve emboldened misunderstanding, even worse ignorance, in the community, and you’ve threatened journalistic standards you aspire to uphold.

Your final paragraph leads me to the question of why The Times elected to publish the aforementioned December 26, 2012 story. Wading through the court reports one can see numerous other similar, and far worse, cases which were never converted to articles. Here are some questions I’d like to hear the answers to: Why publish this one? Why did the reporter present it in such a way as to emphasize that the charges were brought against a MVRHS basketball player? What does the fact that he scored 16 points in a recent game have to do with the story? Why did the author provide the school’s policy for unrelated behavioral infractions but fail to include an explanation of policies related to the relevant charges?

You imply The Times is concerned about the school’s “good name.” Why then would you allow this story to be presented in the manner it was, or even present it at all until further journalistic work could be completed? By allowing this story to print The Times piled the wood, poured the gasoline, and lit the match. Since then your paper fanned the flames in a variety of ways. Consequently, your professed concern for the school’s good name appears superficial, at best.

The, About the Martha’s Vineyard Times, page on your website states, in part; states the following:

“In 2004, we celebrated our 20th anniversary as the community newspaper of Martha’s Vineyard…The Martha’s Vineyard Times also has a strong tradition of service to readers and customers. For most Island people we are the primary news and advertising medium, the genuinely local paper. The company, the publishers and editors, and the entire staff of The Martha’s Vineyard Times are committed to quality and integrity in writing and reporting, leadership in the Martha’s Vineyard community, service to customers and readers…”

I have been reading The Times weekly since moving to the Island 25 years ago. I enjoy your paper and appreciate many of a variety of contributions made to the Island. I believe you have more often than not performed to the spirit of what’s written above. However, in this current matter you have severely strayed from your self-proclaimed mission. Consequently; at the risk of being labeled a plagiaristic thug, and a felon, I am compelled to describe The Times’ handling of this affair by purloining your words. It has been a disservice to the community, school, and students.

John A. Roberts 3rd

Oak Bluffs