North Ave. needs a lesson on Constitution

November 23, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

Dear Baltimore public school students:

Today's lesson, young people, is about the Constitution.

It's the foundation for the country's law and establishes the freedoms and rights we all cherish, as I'm sure your teachers in social studies classes tell you.

But your teachers' bosses - the ones who run things from that building on North Avenue - obviously have a different view of the Constitution. They view it as that nettlesome document that makes all that fuss about unimportant matters such as freedom of speech and of the press.

That's not a flattering assessment of this school system's leaders. But what else are we to think after everything that's happened to the Douglass High School football team in the last couple of weeks?

The 2005 Douglass Ducks gridiron warriors were all poised for a run at a state championship. The team had gone 9-1 in the regular season, won the city's Division II title and was prepped for its first 2A regional playoff game last weekend.

But when teams took the field this past Saturday, the Ducks weren't among them. Joe Holland, the head football coach at Douglass, and his players learned they had to forfeit the entire season for using an allegedly ineligible player.

Eminently qualified writers Milton Kent and Lem Satterfield told of the athletic implications of this story in The Sun's sports pages. But, as can be expected when Baltimore public schools are involved, there are more than athletic implications to this story.

Thanks to the conduct of some of those involved, we now have to question why this school system treats reporters like flesh-eating zombies.

The assignment for you, dear students, is to have your teachers ask school administrators this question whenever the subject of the Constitution comes up in your classes: Why were Sun reporters kicked out of a meeting at Douglass involving players and parents? And why were Holland and Mary Hughee, the athletic director at Douglass, banned from talking to the media?

Yes, dear students, whether you attend Douglass or not, now is the time to remind those down at North Avenue what the First Amendment says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

You should take note of that "freedom of speech, or of the press" business, because the leaders of your school system clearly haven't.

When understandably angry parents and players at Douglass gathered for a meeting to get an explanation for who was to be held accountable for ruining the season of a few dozen young men, the news media weren't invited. Douglass Principal Isabelle Grant gave Sun reporters the boot and slapped a gag order on Holland and Hughee.

Such things don't make North Avenue look good. Such things lead folks to think that North Avenue is afraid of the press. Such things smack of the kind of tactics Josef Stalin used in abusing the Soviet Union for years and lead people to call North Avenue headquarters "the Kremlin."

So the question was put to system leaders: Isn't there an inconsistency - hypocrisy, even - in preaching about how wonderful freedom of the press is in the classroom but in practice giving the boot to reporters seeking to report?

And here's the answer:

"The principal's actions were in accord with established procedure," said Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the school system. "The meeting was called for parents and students and to address their concerns and share information with them. It was not a public meeting."

The emphasis on that last sentence is all mine. It's necessary because it points out just what is wrong with this system: The people running it have a feeling that they aren't accountable to anyone.

Douglass is a public school. It's funded with public money. By definition, whatever happens at Douglass - and at the rest of your schools, dear students - is the public's business. Where do the leaders of this system get off telling any of us "it was not a public meeting"?

That answer will be acceptable when the name "Baltimore City Public Schools" is changed to "Bonnie Copeland's Private Fiefdom." Until then, Copeland and other denizens of the Kremlin owe us some better explanations and need to stop waiting for the day the news media become a body that, in the lingo of you youngsters, school leaders can "chump for their commissary."

The folks at the Kremlin need an attitude adjustment. You youngsters might be just the ones who can give it to them. Maybe the next time there's a glitch in the system, a bunch of you should go down to the Kremlin and - again, using your lingo - "holla" at 'em.

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