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Editor's column: What the hell is going on here?

August 25, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Kaitlin Nootbaar has a funny last name, but she's no joke. She's a 4.0 student, valedictorian of her class.

She's a parent's dream. And, apparently a superintendent's nightmare.

It seems no amount of smarts makes her immune to the ridiculous zero tolerance rule her former high school has in place - a rule that kept the smartest kid in her class from getting a diploma. Burn-outs who care less about grades and more about completing Level 3 in Halo as they fight their way thought the augmented reality provided by video games got their diploma, but not this sassy 4-oh potty mouth.

Nootbaar's graduation speech included the following line as she was talking about being asked what she wanted to do after breezing through high school with straight A's: "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times."

Ooooohhhh, now you've done it, Miss Troublemaker. That'll teach you to rip off a line from "Twilight."

The powers that be at her high school in Oklahoma (nicknamed the Red Devils, by the way) weren't thrilled about her choice of words, so they decided to hold her diploma for her until she crafted a formal apology for her nasty and offensive language.

That's not going to happen.

Nootbaar, who's getting a full ride at Southwest Oklahoma State University, has no intentions of apologizing. She's too smart for that.

Good for her. She shouldn't.

In the version she submitted to the school for approval, "hell" was "heck," so I'm thinking school administrators are more ticked that they thought they were duped by a teen than they were about the actual use of the word.

I understand schools need to take things seriously; we, as parents, expect them to. Schools are criticized every day for the things they do or don't do, but they also need to step back from time to time and let kids be kids.

Schools need to let kids express themselves. Schools need to remember that kids at that age have an urge to be their own person, and if in the process of expressing their personality they from time to time slip up and say a swear word - even if it's during a public speech - schools need to know when to chill a little, especially in this case when dealing with probably one of the finest students to have ever matriculated there.

Nootbaar didn't bring a faux gun to school. She didn't spray paint on the walls. She didn't threaten a teacher or a fellow student. She didn't moon the crowd at graduation or wear an offensive shirt. She said "hell."

Is that even a swear word anymore?

Zero tolerance isn't a bad thing, but there's a time and a place for it. Schools more and more have a tendency to take this policy too far. Some schools obviously enjoy flexing their muscles just to remind us all of the power they have.

Nootbaar's school is just one example.

Another is a grade school in New York City where Patrick Timothy used to attend. A couple years back, Timothy got in trouble for playing with a LEGO figure holding a machine gun. This violated the school's zero tolerance policy regarding the bringing of weapons onto school grounds. A spokesman for the school at the time not only commended the principal for taking the kid to her office, he said she would've been well within her rights to force the child to the ground, according to a web site story. Excuse me, Madame Principal, LEGOs don't kill people, LEGOs kill other LEGOs.

Back to Nootbaar. She has said she's fine with not getting her diploma - that precious little piece of paper that is proof that a kid is smart enough to get through high school and, apparently, proof that they followed all the ridiculous rules their school has made them follow.

If you ask me, she's more than a smart girl. Diploma or not, she's a hell of a smart girl.

 
 

 

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