TAMPA — Head hanging low, he stood near an East Tampa street corner for nearly four hours Wednesday afternoon.
James Mond III, 15, wore a sign around his neck with a message:
"I did 4 questions on my FCAT and said I wasn't going to do it … GPA 1.22 … honk if I need (an) education."
People honked. Lots of people.
This was his mother's idea. Ronda Holder, 33, a Tampa hair stylist, said she wanted James to realize the importance of an education, afraid he will otherwise wind up on the street.
"I don't want any of my kids to stand by the side of the road asking for change," said Holder, the niece of a former Tampa police chief.
By Thursday, her plan had a life of its own. A local TV crew turned James' punishment into evening news. Franklin Middle School enrolled the teen in after-school tutoring. The Department of Children and Families came to Holder's home to interview James.
DCF spokesman Terry Field said the punishment might legally be considered bizarre, a form of maltreatment.
Experts cautioned that the punishment was extreme and likely ineffective.
• • •
It was the mother's latest attempt to get her son to take his schoolwork seriously. Neither she nor the boy's father, James Mond Jr., finished high school.
She said they have offered James help, asked to see his homework, grounded him, lectured him and taken away his cell phone — all to no avail.
"He'd tell us, 'That school doesn't give homework' or 'That teacher has a problem with me,' " Mond Jr. said.
James did poorly in math, poorly in history.
But when his latest report card showed an F in physical education — James says he's "not an outdoor person" — things had gone too far.
Mond Jr. said he had a meeting Tuesday at Franklin Middle School with James, a teacher, the guidance counselor and the vice principal.
In that meeting, the eighth-grader offered none of the excuses he'd given his parents, Mond Jr. said.
"He just sat there looking up at the roof like he wasn't listening," his dad said.
Holder decided that was it. Using white poster board and a marker, she made the sign at home Wednesday, took it to Franklin and called her son out of class. She made him wear it as they exited the campus and then took him to the corner of E Hillsborough Avenue and N 22nd Street.
There, a TV crew took notice.
James wasn't a fan.
"I felt crazy," he said. "It's embarrassing."
Holder said she wasn't after media attention.
"It's about my child's education," she said.
• • •
Child care experts said this may not be the way to reach him.
"It definitely would fall within the category of emotional abuse. It's shame, embarrassment and humiliation. This will be a lifelong memory for him," said Arlinda Amos, a licensed clinical psychologist and ombudsman for the Hillsborough Children's Board.
"It's such an unfortunate strategy, and of course it's ineffective," said Dr. Peter Gorski, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the Hillsborough Children's Board and the University of South Florida.
"The key to motivating children is to balance responsibility with support, and balance is the important part."
The father feels he's done that.
"I talk to my son," said Mond Jr., 33, a landscaper from Tampa. "I told him he needs to go to the teachers and request extra homework for the weekends to try and pull his grades up."
The mother defends her actions.
She has six kids, all in school. The others get good grades, she said. Who's to say her idea won't work?
"They can't judge all children on just one thing," she said.
"If it doesn't work on one child, they don't know if it's going to work on this child. We'll see if it works."
• • •
James understands where his mother is coming from.
Still, if he had kids, he wouldn't use the tactic on them, he said.
"She was trying to teach me a lesson," he said. "I should have been working harder than I was in school."
He pledged to improve his grades if it freed him from the sign.
The principal said "he is a really sweet boy," said Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County School District.
People might wonder if James has a learning disability. He has never been tested, his mother said. Until the middle of seventh grade, his grades were fine.
On Thursday, amid attention over the sign, she got a letter from her son's history teacher claiming his grades are improving. He got a D on his last report card, she said.
Holder was glad the school offered him tutoring this week but couldn't hide her contempt that someone reported her to the DCF.
She said she fails to see how her fighting for her child's education falls into the category of child abuse.
"You can't resort to spanking," she said. "I want my child to have an education and have his children be able to look at him and say I can get an education, too."
People can criticize her all they like.
"This is one child who won't be lost to the streets."
Times staff writer Marlene Sokol and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.