The Kids Aren't All Right

School incident reports create a journal crammed with violence, drama, rivalry, and intrigue

You think you know all about the local education system -- the politics, the money crunch, the learning gaps. But schools are not mere hatcheries of learning, into which varying measures of intellectual formaldehyde are mixed with an inchoate population to produce the Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons of the next generation. Schools are in fact miniature cities, seething and bubbling with daily dramas that often have little to do with the actual purpose of their existence.

You know almost nothing about this. Think of your amount of knowledge as being equal to that of a typical father about his teenage daughter's sex life. Unless Dad logs onto her blog, he's clueless. Similarly, the Miami school system could be thought of as an unruly, hormone-driven wild child, with a secret life that rarely leaks into public view. Fortunately the school district keeps an old-fashioned diary.

One of the benefits of being a huge and unwieldy bureaucracy is that nearly everything that happens gets written down and reported up the chain of command. The schoolyard brawls, bus accidents, bomb threats, parent-teacher scuffles, tawdry employee affairs, or sprained ankles are documented in daily reports at every one of the more than 350 schools and educational centers throughout the county. They are brief dispatches, some almost haiku-like in their vague yet compelling detail. Most incidents are minor, some are epic. There is tragedy, and comedy, and much of a prosaic nature.

By Rebecca Wakefield
Neil Swaab
By Rebecca Wakefield
Neil Swaab

New Times decided to tear a few pages from this journal and have a look at all the pathos, selecting more than a thousand incident reports generated during several days throughout the 2003-04 school year. The range covers days in August, September, and December 2003, and April and May 2004. This is good stuff. Read on.

Crazy Acting

Anyone who has made it out alive knows that schools are petri dishes teeming with the rawest human emotions. Children are subjected to intense social and intellectual demands at the same time they are still developing the coping mechanisms adults use to moderate the pain and stress of daily life. It's a wonder more people aren't crazy.

One boy, age thirteen, at Hialeah Middle School, did go nuts one afternoon in May. For no reason, he suddenly began hitting other students in his class. When confronted by the teacher, Farah Arab, he spat in her mouth. He grabbed a pair of scissors and threatened to kill a student. He was immediately hauled to the assistant principal's office. When asked what was wrong with him, he said, "It's not me. It's the three guys, Jack, Jorge, and Marcus." When asked who they were, he responded that they were, "You know, in my mind. They come out at night when I sleep, especially Jack. When he comes out, it hurts my head." Then he blurted out, "I'm going to get a gun and kill. I'm going to kill [he mentioned four students' names]. I'm going to kill the police officer too." Assistant principal Marie Caceres called school police and the boy's parents. The student was transported to Citrus Health Network.

A third grader at Myrtle Grove Elementary in Opa-locka chased a classmate around the room on May 4, threatening to kill her. "He said he was going to pour gas on her house, light a match to it, and watch it burn as it did earlier this year," states the report, prepared by principal Barbara Johnson. "He wanted to see her die and was going to kill her entire family, too." The boy, age nine, was taken to Citrus Health Network and committed under the Baker Act.

At North Miami Beach Senior High on May 10, a girl became upset when told to leave the classroom because she was disruptive. She picked up a stapler and began forcing staples into her hands. The Baker Act for her too. Meanwhile, at Charles D. Wyche, Jr. Elementary on September 12, a troubled boy, age six, confessed to his therapist that his mother had taken him to the doctor and instructed him to "act crazy so that we can get the check so she can buy me clothes." He also said he ran around touching everything and that he pretended not to be able to identify numbers when asked. The therapist reported the incident to the state child abuse hotline.

The same day, across town at the Robert Morgan Educational Center, a fourteen-year-old boy broke down. He "began crying in frustration, reporting that his father molested his sister and ögot away with it,'" reported Lt. David Steger, of the school district's police force. "[He] refused to cease repeated physical activity, moving back and forth on his feet while facing the wall and speaking in barely audible voice. Family could not be reached. Student was transported to Jackson South."

Death Threats and Other Subtle Hints

One thing is clear about children. They are, on the whole, bloody-minded little bastards. To them, even minor provocations can appropriately be met with extreme reactions. The deductive reasoning of smaller urchins can be amusing. But in a world that has seen disaffected high school students gun down classmates in the suburbs of Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon -- not to mention a quiet, unassuming teen named Michael Hernandez allegedly slitting the throat of Jaime Gough in the bathroom at Southwood Middle in Palmetto Bay this past February -- the misguided passions of youth can be chilling.

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