The carjacking took only a few minutes, but the experience remains fresh in my mind years later.
I share this experience to make the point that I understand – perhaps better than most – the desire to punish those who break the law.
But I also understand that punishing people and solving problems are not always the same thing.
THAT IS WHY I feel compelled to address the ongoing debate in the Richmond County School System regarding whether it is appropriate to provide transportation to students sent to the alternative school.
To recap, the school system currently does not provide transportation, but there have been repeated attempts over the years to reverse this decision.
The idea of “punishing” students by making them find transportation just boggles my mind. I frankly just don’t get it.
First, school transportation is not a luxury or a privilege like dessert or extracurricular activities. It is a necessity and a reality. Does anyone enjoy riding a school bus? I never did.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, not everyone lives within walking distance of the alternative school, and not everyone has a spare car and an available adult to make the drive each morning and each afternoon. This is especially true in Richmond County with its high level of poverty.
Consequently, by depriving students of transportation, you are de facto depriving the child of an education.
Secondly, the argument goes that by providing transportation we are somehow rewarding these students.
As a kid, I got into more than my fair share of trouble at school. Just ask my mom and dad.
BUT I NEVER WAS suspended, never sent home and never had any obstacle erected to make getting an education more difficult.
To the contrary, when I got into trouble, I stayed at school longer. I cleaned the cafeteria. I picked up trash in the parking lot. And, when I was lucky, I had to sit in the principal’s office and do homework.
Study after study has shown a dramatic decrease in the likelihood that a student ever will graduate from high school with every day that the student is suspended.
And what does that mean for the student who does not graduate?
According to studies, it means the student will earn, on average, a million bucks less over a lifetime; is more likely to be involved in criminal activity; is more likely to depend on government entitlements; and, statistically, even will have a shorter lifespan.
A parallel impact is felt on the community.
High-school dropouts negatively affect the ability to attract economic development, increase the financial burdens on taxpayers and decrease our property values.
Let me put it another way.
REGARDLESS OF whether you have children in public schools or private schools, regardless of whether your children are well past school age or still in diapers and regardless of whether you even have children or not, this is a problem that affects each and every one of us. This is not “their” problem, but our problem.
So we have a choice. We can address the problem today or we can address it tomorrow. Make no mistake, however: The costs (and not just financial costs) will be much greater the longer we wait.
A board of education is charged with one job, albeit an extremely important one, and that is to educate. There is no asterisk, no fine print and no qualifying language to this job description.
The job to educate is never easy, even under the best of circumstances.
BUT IT IS THE job of a board of education to educate all children all the time. “Punishment” is a reason not to educate a child, but it is certainly not an excuse.
The school board must do anything and everything in its power to ensure everyone graduates fully prepared for life.
When faced with a difficult situation, school board member Frank Dolan is fond of saying, “It’s time to put on your big boy pants.”
Board members, respectfully: That time is now.
(The writer was education reporter for The Augusta Chronicle from 2005 to 2009.)