Community Decisions: Representing the Assaulter and Fair or Unfounded? Collective Punishment in High School Sports

These articles are a part of the series Community Decisions written by Sophomore Democratic Roots Classes. This is the Montpelier addition. These articles are written by Sophomores, Yvette Petrella and Rory McLane. 

 

Representing the Assaulter 

Yvette Petrella

 

Different names were used to respect the confidentiality of people in this piece.

 

“Are you kidding?” was the reaction of Carolyn Kiniry, the Head Union at Montpelier High School (MHS) when she first heard about the complaint. Sexual harassment was still happening at Montpelier High school in 2018. 

 

 

One afternoon, in the hallways of MHS, a teacher overheard another teacher (Tom) comment on Jane’s body saying that Jane had, “a nice a**” and “an a** of a 16 year old.” The teacher was conflicted on whether to report this or not, as she knew that if she did, her name would be in the report and Tom would know that she was the one who had reported the situation. After contemplation, the teacher decided that it was best that she report the issue as she knew that what Tom had done was wrong. 

 

As soon as the situation was reported, Carolyn Kiniry became involved. As the Head of the Teacher’s Union, it was a part of her job to represent Tom. A Union is an organization that gives employees power in negotiating more favorable working conditions. The comments made by Tom created an unsafe and uncomfortable environment negatively influencing the work conditions. For that reason, Kiniry became involved. 

 

She had to represent Tom when he was called in to be questioned by the administration. Carolyn prepared Tom with these supportive words: “Be factual, be concise. And don’t be emotional.” 

 

Since Kiniry had represented many teachers in legal situations before, she knew exactly how to handle the situation. She knew that Tom would be unaware of why he was being questioned, and she knew that she could not tell him ahead of time, however it was mandatory that she prepare him emotionally. She did this by using her words to calm him. 

 

Helping Tom, even though it was a regular part of her job to represent her co-workers, felt different for Carolyn because she knew that, That is something you don’t say to a female...you just don’t say that to anybody.” She knew that “The comments Tom made were inappropriate.” In addition, the comments were made during a time of many social justice movements, specifically around women coming forward about sexual assault. 

 

In the end, Carolyn valued the importance of the impact of her job on many teachers over this specific case, and she knew that if she didn’t represent Tom then someone else would and she felt as though she was the best fit for the job.   

 

Tom was suspended without pay for 2 days. Carolyn thinks that Tom has learned from his mistake, although she will never truly know. Tom has since retired from teaching and now spends his time at home with his wife.

 

Fair or Unfounded? Collective Punishment in High School Sports. 

By Rory McLane

 

Collective punishment, in a school setting, is when school administrators and teachers try to use peer pressure to punish groups of students for the actions of one. An example of this that many have experienced in some form or another is when a teacher would say the entire class couldn’t go to recess as a result of a single student. Or when a basketball coach makes the team run seemingly endless laps when a teammate or two are “goofing off”.

 

 Mary Redmond was a Latin teacher at Montpelier High School. She had a daughter who attended U-32 high school. She faced a problem, stemming from the rivalry game between U-32 and Montpelier.

 

 

 On the day of the game, Mary was asked to “run the clock” and keep score for the game. Midway through, she noticed a girl on the Montpelier team playing. This girl had skipped her class earlier that day. 

 

When the final whistle blew, signaling the end of the game, Montpelier had come out on top. After the game ended, the girl who had previously skipped Mary’s class walked over to Mary with her friends and purposefully said hello to her. She said nothing about missing her class earlier that day. Mary decided to say nothing to the girl. 

 

The next day, she decided to make sure that the girl had actually skipped her class, and that there was no excused absence that she was missing. So she went to the main office; the area in which all attendances and absences are recorded. She spoke with the main office employee and told her what happened the previous day. As she recapped the details of what took place, the Athletic Director walked in and overheard the conversation. “It was kind of a perfect storm, because the Athletic Director was in the office and heard this whole conversation and he immediately jumped in and said, ‘Oh, I guess we have to do something about this.”

 

The Athletic Director confirmed what Mary believed to be true. If a student has an unexcused absence from school the day of a sports game, they are ineligible to play. Subsequently, Montpelier had to forfeit the game, resulting in a loss for Montpelier and a win for U-32. As a result, this changed the seeding for the upcoming playoffs. 

 

 Montpelier won the game. However, after Mary reported the students’ absence   “they had to [retroactively] forfeit it because of this one girl who should have been forthright and not playing.” After the Athletic Director overheard what had happened, the situation wasn’t in Mary’s hands anymore. Yet for some reason, the punishment didn’t sit right with Mary. She knew that the girl would be punished, but to have the entire team punished seemed unfair to her. 

 

While the idea of collective punishment is proven to have high levels of short term effectiveness, it’s very reliant on the notion that the ends justify the means (The Educator). 

 

The process of punishing an entire youth sports team for the actions of just one student challenges the established rules that normalize this form of punishment. In fact, research suggests that a student’s “punitive responses actually increase future problematic student behavoir ”. This acts as a result of feeling disengaged as well as excluded from their peers. There have been varying alternatives that have been proposed by the federal and state government, which examine state changes that may be models for others. So if this form of punishment is, on a fundamental level, reinforcing misbehavior in addition to punishing those who have done nothing wrong, is it truly a good idea?

 

Even though Mary was able to let the Athletic Director directly deal with the repercussion of the student’s actions, she still, to this day, felt very conflicted in relation to how the entire situation was dealt with.

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