The Dallas Morning News described Mohamed as having “racked up weeks of suspension” and pranking the “classroom projector.” His former Sam Houston Middle School 7th grade Texas History teacher, Ralph Kubiak, admitted that Mohamed’s First Amendment appeal when trying to wiggle out of trouble, although clever, backfired. The principal doled out Saturday detention.
Retired, Kubiak admits a fondness for Mohamed yet dubbed him a “weird little kid” who could either wind up the CEO of a company or “head of a gang.” Kubiak recalls a chatty budding clockmeister. “He just went on and on.” Mohamed learned English as a second language while in middle school. Kubiak said once Mohamed mastered it, “he had a habit of overusing it — trying to impress classmates with a nonstop stream of chatter, teachers said, and often annoying them instead.”
Talking too much is not a crime but the Texas Education Code gives school districts the latitude to refer students for punishment on “discretionary” offenses that generally include use of profanity, failure to turn in work, or behavior that teachers label “disruptive.” The problem is, “disruptive” is a discretionary term in today’s choke-hold-compliance-seeking times.
“While [Mohamed’s] discipline record is confidential and his father didn’t want to discuss it, the file was thick by some accounts,” the Dallas Morning News noted. The Sudanese-American sensation du jour said he was suspended for several weeks during sixth grade.
“Kids are kids,” said Anthony Bond, a Mohamed family friend and vocal Irving activist about a middle school incident where Ahmed and his cousin got busted for blowing soap bubbles in the bathroom. Bond, founder of the local NAACP, insisted the school overreacted. “He was a little boy in a new environment, and they were acting out.”
During an eighth grade fracas, Bond intervened, writing a letter to the Irving Independent School District (ISD) superintendent, school board president and other officials, protesting Ahmed’s suspension as wrongful. He claimed this was self-defense during a hallway fight.
Kubiak also complained to the superintendent that the school was too quick to suspend children. It used a new student evaluation system that he said “wrote some kids off.” Today’s zero tolerance policies can do just that. They are the backbone of federal safe schools and threat assessment plans in response to Columbine (1999) and Sandy Hook (2012), culminating as the Safe School Initiative, a joint project of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service, intended to prevent school shootings. No, kids do not get to be kids anymore.
State policies vary but in Texas, public school student codes of conduct address threats, hoaxes, plus perceived and discretionary threats. In 2011, Texas A&M University identified that 30 percent of Texas students in grades 7-12 received out-of-school suspension (OSS), while 15 percent were either suspended or expelled at least 11 times.
Advocacy groups pushed Texas legislators to downgrade or eliminate charges against chewing gum in schools, disrupting class, profanity, fighting with other students, back talking, failure to follow school rules and the reckless damaging of school property. This year, lawmakers decriminalized truancy. Still, the disciplinary alternative educational program (DAEP) offsite placement remains a repository for students who commit “virtually any disciplinary violation or certain criminal offenses” in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, Breitbart Texas reported.
All students face the same stringent zero tolerance policies as did Ahmed Mohamed and sometimes, for far lesser reasons. Breitbart Texas covers the school-to-prison pipeline, the result of suffocating zero tolerance policies that cut across racial, religious, and socio-economic lines to criminalize kid and teen behavior nationwide. These zero tolerance policies, not racism or Islamophobia as the family maintains, resulted in Mohamed’s Sept. 14 arrest.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.