Charles Wichert is a Sierra High sophomore.
The 15-year-old plays tennis for the Timberwolves, is an honor roll student, and is passionate about helping others.
He’s been a volunteer with the Future Stars 2000 tennis program under the leadership of Lance Turner to help mentor younger players. The goal of Future Stars isn’t simply to get kids hooked on tennis. Instead it is get them involved with something so they can develop a stronger sense of self-worth. It even involves tutoring in some cases.
Charles’ yearning to help others doesn’t end there. He is a member of two youth service clubs — Kiwins and Interact.
He is driven to reach out to others for a number of reasons including an incident where an acquaintance seriously contemplated suicide. That is why he became a peer counselor at Sierra High.
Charles is still helping others but he’s no longer a peer counselor.
That’s because during a free time study period in his Spanish class his school-issued tablet “went off” and audibly repeated. “Somebody call the cops, cuz that girl got too much crack.” It was from the website Quizlet in the joke section.
The teacher — correctly – seized the tablet as she felt it was disrupting the class. Charles was sent to the office and left with the impression he was getting a one day in-class suspension.
Charles admitted to the infraction although he noted he had no idea that the joke he tapped on would be audible and not merely visual on his screen. You’ve got to love technology.
When Charles got to the office he was informed he was being given a two day in-class suspension instead. And because of that he could no longer be a peer counselor. He could still play tennis and participate in extracurricular clubs but he couldn’t be a peer counselor. He signed a contract to the effect if he got two strikes — two one day in-class suspensions or the equivalent — he could no longer be a peer counselor for the balance of the year. The rules allow him to reapply next year but since his record wasn’t spotless he’d be bumped by those who have no marks against them.
Charles figures that essentially means he’ll never be a peer counselor again.
So Charles thought he could politely and respectively make a case or challenge the interpretation of the rules. He came up against the proverbial brick wall. Essentially the powers that be didn’t want to hear it nor apparently do they need to hear it. The courts have given schools wide latitude when it comes to “rights” and “due process” involving students not because they aren’t adults but because the schools need to maintain safe and orderly place for learning.
That said one would think a bit of grace would be applied.
Let me make one thing absolutely clear before going on. In no way should anyone second guess a teacher keeping order in a classroom regardless whether you may think the standard is too high or low. They are paid and dedicated to teaching. When you deal with 100 teens or so a day you’ve got your hands full. And in fairness to teens, if you deal with 100 people a day period in making sure they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing and grasping your instructions it isn’t easy.
Most teens would just shrug their shoulders and move on. After all, it wasn’t like he can’t play sports or be involved in clubs.
But there’s something bigger at stake here.
For a student that says he has never been in trouble at Sierra High, equating his infraction that he owned up to with what is outlined in Education Code 48900 as referenced in Education Code 48910 that gives schools the authority to suspend students is overshooting the runway a bit.
Essentially “disrupting school activities” when his tablet went off is lumped in with physically attacking another person, bringing dangerous weapons to school, selling or being under the influence of an illegal substance, committing robbery or extortion, cause damage or attempted to do so to school or private property, stealing, using tobacco, receiving stolen property, possessing an imitation firearm, committing sexual assault, harassing a student, for some reason the specific act of trying to sell the prescription drug Soma, negating in hazing, bullying, and willfully defying the valid authority of a teacher.
A case could be made the punishment doesn’t fit his infraction
If the punishment sounds surreal, go listen to Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre.” Songs have changed but the tune is still the same.
In a way it’s good that Charles learns now that government bureaucracy despite its best claims and intentions tends to take a one-size-fits-all approach.
And in case you’re wondering, Charles is willing to do just about anything to get his two day in-class suspension dialed back to one day. He’s willing to pick up litter for 20 days — anything — so he can be a peer counselor again.
That is how strong his passion is.
But as many others before him have discovered bureaucratic rules are not synonymous with justice.