When I hear the word "untouchables," I think of two things: the 1987 movie starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, and the term for people in India who lived at the bottom of the caste system.
Now I have a third association with this word, and it's not a good one.
One morning a couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine - a science teacher - came down to my end of the building and shot the breeze with me a bit. He has lived all over the world, and he likes to come to my classroom to ogle my 8' x 13' map on my wall. We were discussing the rapid deterioration of the behavior of many of our students. He told me that one cause of our behavior problems was from a hard-core group of students about whom he talked with the VP in charge of discipline. The VP told him that this small group of students - about 5 of them - were "untouchable." Word had come down from on high (the District Office, or D.O.) that they couldn't be expelled, they couldn't be suspended, they could not be disciplined in any meaningful way. When I asked why, my colleague didn't know exactly. Our best guess was that these students are special ed, and it is written into their Individual Education Plan (IEP) that their bad behavior is caused by their disability.
Fast forward to my bus duty after school today. As I was standing in the big parking area where the buses were lined up, I kept hearing a student in one of the buses yell to another student somewhere, "So-and-so is a bitch!" Then he yelled it again.
Over the eons, teachers have learned that if we want to catch a student doing something he shouldn't, you must first act like you don't see or hear what he is up to, but all the while, you are watching him out of the corner of your eye, waiting to get the visual and/or audio proof you need to nail him. That is what I did in this situation. When he yelled it a second time, I didn't snap my head in his direction and fruitlessly scan the bus windows; instead, I nonchalantly went about my business, but turned my body slightly toward the bus, so I could watch it out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough, a few seconds later, the kid leaned out the window and again let loose with, "So-and-so is a bitch," and then he punctuated this statement with an obscene flickering of his tongue. That was all I needed. I ran up to the bus driver and told her I needed to remove a student. I went to the window at which he was sitting and motioned for him to leave the bus. I then went to the bus door and waited for the kid to come out. Upon his exit, the kid pulled the old, "What did I do?" routine. I told him, "You can't act like that on the bus; you will have to call someone for a ride home."
As we walked toward the admin building, I asked the kid his name, and he said in a faux Hispanic accent, "You can call me 'Chinchito,'" or something to that effect. I asked him two more times what his name was, but all he would say was, "Don't worry about it." I told him that refusing to identify yourself to a staff member would get you a referral and a possible suspension, to which he replied, "I don't care, I hate this school." As we got closer to the admin building, the kid started getting more agitated and began telling me that he was going to go home and wasn't going to follow me to the VP's office. "Besides," he said, "It's after school; you can't do anything to me anyway." So many of our students don't realize that they are under our rules until they get home from school.
The whole walk from the bus to the VP's office, this kid seemed totally and utterly unconcerned about any consequences for what he did on the bus, how he was talking to me, or even what would happen to him when he had to call home to get a ride because he got kicked off the bus. I was soon to find out the source of his non-concern.
We reached the VP's office, and I told the kid to have a seat outside the door. The VP was standing right there, and when he saw who I brought in, he got the strangest look on his face. I told the VP, "I removed him from the bus for doing some nasty stuff, but I don't know who he is because he refused to identify himself."
The VP motioned me to our copy room, and what he told me about made my jaw drop. Rumor was about to become reality. The VP told me, "His name is ******. I can't do anything to him. His IEP says that the way he acts is because of his disability, so once he reaches ten days of suspension for the school year, we can't suspend him anymore. He reached ten days quite a while ago." I interrupted and said, "Is he one of these 'untouchables' that I have heard about?" The VP nodded his head, and I said, "So the rumor is true?" The VP said, "Yep, the rumor is true. The D.O. says we can't touch him."
People ask what is wrong with our educational system in this country? Right there is Exhibit A. When people find out I am a teacher, they often ask me what can be done to fix our educational system, and my primary answer is that we need to return to the concept that to receive a public education is a privilege, not a right.
Teachers, and more importantly, other students must endure disruptive, disrespectful, and dysfunctional kids like this in our classrooms because according to the California Education Code, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, this kid is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Entitled, mind you. That must change.
I don't give a rip if this kid's behavior is caused by some disability. That means little to the students, the parents of the other students, and staff who must endure his disruptions. If his behavior is so out-of-control that he has become an "untouchable," then that means he needs to go elsewhere, to a special school that is designed to take on kids like him.
Instead, the situation with which we are currently presented regarding kids like this, and others like him, is sheer and utter madness. Only politicians and bureaucrats - especially ones who have never spent any significant time in your typical public school - could come up with a byzantine educational system such as ours.
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson