Of texting, teachers, and reefer madness

Okay, I’m accustomed to hearing about teachers and principals doing utterly berserk things — and violating just about every expectation of privacy a student might have — under the guise of “protecting the school” from nasty influences. This is a country, after all, where the police are now regularly summoned to inspect students’ short stories if they contain any outrageous, fantastic, or violent elements.

But even so, assistant principal Marge Grube at Nazareth Area High School appears to have planted the needle on the Orwell-o-meter. Grube confiscated a kid’s mobile phone after claiming he was sending text messages in class. He denied this was the case. So Grube decided to read all his recent text messages to find out. That’s a deranged privacy invasion right there, but it gets much, much worse. Grube found a message from the kid’s girlfriend that read “I need a tampon!” Since “tampon” is also slang for a big, fat joint, Grube immediately deduced that the kid was possibly a secret drug dealer!

So Grube decided to investigate — by going undercover. Using the kid’s mobile phone, she made a bunch of calls to all his friends in his contact list. Then she sent a text message to the kid’s 10-year-old brother, pretending to be the kid. I’m not making this up. In a story in Nazareth’s local paper, the district superintendent attempted to justify Grube’s actions:

“Anytime our administrators are facing a situation that’s maybe drug- and alcohol-related, they’re going to do what they can, within the law, to make sure our kids are safe,” Lesky said.

Ah yes: Keeping the children safe from the hordes of godless communist hippie wiccan teenagers who are trying to find tampons for their girlfriends (which, as it turns out, the kid says was a thoroughly non-drug-related comment). By the way, the version of the story I’ve given above is Grube’s. If you believe the version given by the kids’ parents, things are much, much worse: They say Grube confiscated the phone merely because she wanted to pull off a cell phone sting. She used the kid’s phone to call his friends, to find out who else had brought their phones to school. She didn’t actually think he had any drugs at all, and merely retroactively claimed it was a drug-related investigation to make herself look good.

Whatever. Even if you believe Grube’s loopy tale, legal experts say she still violated the kid’s rights nine ways to Sunday. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today, but I hope the parents take this all the way to the Supreme Court. Grube — and all the crazy, overzealous, hypocritical, sanctimonious teachers who behave like this too — are just crying out to be spanked with the Constitution.

I am so bloody glad I’m not in high school these days. I honestly don’t know how kids handle it.

(Thanks to Techdirt Wireless for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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