Saturday, February 19, 2005

Whither Loyalty?

Take amphetamines to fly a multi-million dollar airplane for the military, and it's okay even if you're so hyped up you bomb your allies. Take them to stay up late preparing lesson plans for elementary school children in Wichita Falls, though, and you do a perp walk and get your mug shot in the morning paper (reg. required), despite 27 years on the job.

That's what I don't get about the drug war -- how in the world can this level of hypocrisy not be obvious to those engaged in it? Here's a teacher who has devoted her life to the children of Wichita Falls.
She apparently has developed a drug abuse problem. Are her troubles met with sympathy or compassion? Was she immediately offered drug treatment or counseling? Does anyone appreciate her years of service despite her poor personal decisions that weren't "associated with the school"? Of course not. They're hanging her out to dry. Here's how the school district's PR officer tried to spin the situation:

[Wichita Falls ISD Public Information Officer Renae] Murphy stressed the search warrant involved a home and not a school district facility.

"It wasn't at school or associated with school," she said.

She said any time an employee is arrested, that employee is placed on administrative leave while the investigation is conducted.

"These kinds of charges and actions are taken very seriously," Murphy said, "and termination is an option," depending on the outcome. She said a teacher who's convicted of a crime stands to lose his or her certification.

Murphy said she's never seen a case involving a charge like this in her six years as public information officer for the district.

She said the schools - and the community - expect teachers and all employees to be role models for the children.

"When one person fails to be that role model, that casts a shadow on everyone else," she said. "That's unfortunate because we have employees throughout our district who are exemplary leaders."

Students at Sam Houston for the most part didn't have a lot of questions about the incident Friday, Murphy said.

"The teachers have spoken very professionally about the incident," using information they'd been provided, Murphy said. She said the school wanted to reassure students and parents.

"School goes on and nothing has changed for them and their school life there at Sam Houston."

One wonders: Whither loyalty?

After 27 years, the Wichita Falls ISD is ready to throw this woman out like yesterday's garbage. Where's the statement about how her recent struggle with drug abuse doesn't diminish nearly three decades of service to the town's children, at crap wages and uncertain retirement benefits, or that many people at the school love her and support her and wish her the best? Not one kind word was cast in her direction.

In these comments, and indeed apparently in the school district's administration and local media coverage, we find no mercy, no compassion. "Nothing has changed" is sure right -- Wichita Falls is in a the throes of a drug abuse problem that its media and public officials are pretending is a result of personal moral failings. It's not; addiction is a medical problem that afflicts a certain portion of the population pretty much regardless.

Certainly if any other teachers do have a drug problem, they sure as hell know now they'd better not reach out to ask for help. Their employer has made it very clear that they're more concerned about "reassuring" the parents than supporting a teacher wading through through troubled personal waters. (And can there really only be one non-exemplary teacher in Wichita Falls? Isn't that like the kids in Minnesota who are all above average?)

There's a lot of harsh, ugly, punitive drug warrior talk coming out of Wichita Falls these days, all with an annoyingly judgmental tone. Wichita Falls state Sen. Craig Estes thinks he can incarcerate his way out of the drug abuse problem. He's wrong.

This isn't the first Texas teacher caught with drugs off campus recently; a Tarrant County teacher was found with marijuana growing in his garage after an illegal search (apparently he couldn't afford to buy it on a teacher's salary). Drug abuse has now famously reached all the way into the prosecutor's offices of one of the most outspoken tough-on-crime-DA's in the state.

Drug abuse isn't just happening to those "other people" anymore. It's happening to our teachers, our prosecutors, our cops, our politicians, people in every walk of life. Treating it as a criminal instead of a medical problem makes things worse and doesn't solve any of the associated problems. The teacher in question is 51 and was functioning on the job; a leave of absence to attend a drug abuse program, plus a lot of support from her peers and community, and it's easily conceivable that in a year's time she could be back teaching, drug free, and able to contribute for quite a while longer during a time when Texas has a shortage of experienced teachers. Instead, she'll be criminally charged with possession of 1-4 grams of meth, which is a third degree felony that will get her 2-10 years.

What a waste. And the waste isn't a result of her poor decisions, it's a result of bad public policy.

Have we become so heartless, so absorbed with "gotcha" strategies and the phony high-ground of moralizing about zero tolerance that, even when we're talking about a school teacher with 27 years in the same distict, no public sympathy may be mustered at all on this woman's behalf? Recently, juries in that county have been routinely doling out max sentences for low-level drug users, and I wouldn't be surprised if the locals decide to make her an example.

I wonder, if Jesus Christ himself walked into the Wichita Falls school district offices and announced, "Let those among you who are without sin cast the first stone," if every SOB in the room wouldn't pick up a rock and fling it with all their might? Or for that matter, the offices of the Times Record News?


Catonya said...

Ms. Tidwell was a teacher at Bonham Elementary when my best friend attended school there. To this day, if my friend is asked who her favorite teacher was, without a moment's hesitation, she'll tell you- Ms. Tidwell, 2nd grade. I didn't attend Bonham Elementary, but this teacher made such a wonderful lasting impression on her students, even I remember her. Kudos for making a statement on this one. Ms. Tidwell deserves better than she's getting from the WFISD.

j said...

Well, as I have said before, I lived in Wichita Falls for years. There was a big problem there with Nazi dope which is made with lithium batteries and anhydrous. Did a lot of damage to my liver....anyway, I lived with my boyfriend and his family-we had actually met in a treatment center. There's a lot of shady stuff going on there as far as the criminal justice system goes. My boyfriend got a 10 year suspended sentence for intent to deliver coke and/or meth which means he got 10 years of probation and I swear something like a $20,000 fine. He was a good-hearted guy but he did have a bad problem. I mean, at one time or another he believed every family member and friend he had was ploting against him especially me. The thing I want to say really is that addiction is hard to "beat" and it usually takes several failed attempts to get clean if you get clean at all. And professional doctors, and counselors will all tell you this. Plus, being a convicted felon makes it hard to get and keep a job. So...since receiving his sentence in the late 1990s he's repeatedly relapsed and been thrown into jail for six months or more, he's gone to some crazy bootcamp were they encourage the men there to snitch on each other as often as possible, and he still could go to prison. I really cared about him and his family! And let me tell you--the STRESS he felt concerning his probation which called for random drug test he could rarely pass and the fines he was constantly behind on reaked havoc on all of our lives. I think if he had just gotten a lighter sentence he may have made it. I think about him a lot but since the day I left the last time I knew we could never be together again.The Last time we spoke he had moved from WF to Abiliene to live a the "180 House". If you want to check out how stiff and unfair the great state of Arkansas is on meth users/addicts/"cooks" then look up Greg Nickels case in Arkansas under the Ark. Dept of Corrections-Inmate population search-He got 54 years for his first charge of manufacturing. Now tell me if I am wrong but I feel that is ridiculous if not criminal considering how soon many child rapist, killers, and those Enron jerks get out. If you think it's as unfair as I do, tell your congressmen.....Oh who am I kidding, they don't care. Dani