What a shame it has come to this. Georgia Superintendent of Education Linda Schrenko's key proposals to the General Assembly this month includes writing into state law a code of student conduct and sharp curbs on filing frivolous lawsuits against teachers and administrators for disciplining students.
These recommendations indicate that for the new year security - not reading, writing and arithmetic - is the top priority in all too many of our public schools. Nothing better demonstrates society's collapse of values and civil behavior. A generation ago it was unheard of for schools to need state laws to enforce discipline in the classroom. But back then, permissive and opportunistic litigators weren't standing in line to argue that common rules of decency and decorum violated students' constitutional rights.
Most Georgia schools, in fact, do have codes of conduct. However, many are afraid to enforce them for fear of being dragged into court. As Schrenko points out, school systems and teachers don't want to risk losing their shirt over a lawsuit. Even if they win, they lose; a victorious defense is still very expensive.
This is why one of the reforms Schrenko is urging creates a "loser pays" system to require suing parents to foot the tab for all court costs, including defense expenses, if teachers or administrators win. That should guarantee that lawsuits have some merit before they go forward.
The recommendations, already drawing strong support from teachers, could still face a rough ride in the Legislature if lawyer lobbies weigh in against it. Strong grass-roots support will be needed if Schrenko's plan is to pass.
Permissiveness is a cancer on school systems, and not just in Georgia. It leads some young people to believe they can get away with abusing school officials. Only last week an Aiken middle school principal was attacked for the second time in seven months.
South Carolinians ought to be asking why their state school superintendent, Barbara Nielsen, isn't working up code-of-conduct legislation for that state.
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