When we parents see our children take their lumps — fail to make a school team, get shuttled into a remedial class, bring home a lousy grade on a science project — we all want to take up their cause.
Can't you see my kid can really play! He could do grade-level work if he had a decent teacher! Show me one other girl who turned in a better papier mache volcano!
Most of us restrain ourselves for two reasons. We know it wouldn't do any good and we know our children need to learn that standards of performance, if not always fair, apply to everyone.
Of course, if you happen to be the teachers' boss (or at least an assistant principal at the school where they work) it might help to intervene on your child's behalf, at least in the short term. Also, the rules might not apply.
That seems to be the situation of Vivian Sweeney, assistant principal at Explorer K-8, whose son is an eighth-grader in the school's Quest Academy for the Gifted program. If the name of the program isn't enough to give the boy an outsized sense of entitlement, his mother's actions could have sealed the deal.
One of the four teachers who complained that Sweeney had violated the school district's bullying and harassing policy, wrote that Sweeney's son bragged that his mother "ran the school.'' The consequence is what you might expect when a child spreads a message among bright kids that rules are subjective: his classmates started to misbehave, the teacher said.
It's important to mention here that Sweeney, the wife of School Board member John Sweeney, denied the teachers' allegations, and that Heather Martin, the district official who investigated the complaints, found that Sweeney had not violated district policy.
But this doesn't mean, as Vivian Sweeney said after hearing of the ruling, that "the teachers … overreacted.''
First of all, Martin found evidence that Sweeney "blurred the lines'' between her roles as parent and administrator.
Second, consider the possible backlash for teachers who challenge a politically connected administrator and you can be pretty sure it's not something they would do on a lark. Then remember that not one but four teachers were willing to take this step.
Finally, listen to the actions they reported:
By the end of last school year, Sweeney's son had missed several weeks of class for health reasons and had compiled a long list of missed assignments. His mother pressured teachers to exempt him from this work rather than make it up and reinforced her message with grade-change forms slipped into the teachers' mailboxes, the teachers said.
Sweeney used her position to access the records of other Quest students to compare their grades and punishments with her son's, said the assistant principal in charge of the gifted program.
Earlier this year, when the boy was one of several students accused of copying material for projects for two of the teachers, Sweeney threatened to file an state ethics complaint against them unless they wiped any mention of plagiarism off his record.
What message does this send? Maybe that her son is exempt from the rules governing the most serious academic crime there is.
If that's the case, then she really isn't helping him at all.