Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 3, 2008

Puh-lease: Coverage complaints, attendance boundaries, disability intolerance

It’s time for one of my periodic roundups of news that makes me shake my head, roll my eyes and utter a two-syllable “Puh-lease.”

First is the controversy surrounding coverage of the death of a registered sex offender who lived in Morgan Hill. A friend of the dead man complained in a letter to the editor that the Morgan Hill Times’ coverage included “something that happened several years ago.”

Puh-lease. Of course the news coverage included that information. That “something that happened several years ago” was a sex crime conviction that landed the deceased on California’s sex offender registry.

We are known and judged by our deeds, like it or not. It might not please the dead man’s associates that part of his legacy is a sex crime conviction, but that’s the fact and the newspaper was right to report it.

When Richard Nixon died, the media appropriately discussed the scandal that engulfed his presidency, Watergate, even though it had happened decades earlier.

When Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky die, their behavior and the scandal it triggered will be prominently featured in their obituaries.

When George W. Bush dies, news coverage will include the unnecessary, bungled war in Iraq, his administration’s trampling of civil rights, endorsement of torture, suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and unprecedented expansion of presidential power.

News is not gathered and reported to stroke egos, whitewash history or cherrypick facts. It’s gathered and reported to inform news consumers and to write an accurate first draft of history. As letter-to-the-editor writer Jamie Windgassen wrote in defense of The Times’ coverage, “We should … be concerned when information is censored.”

If you want exclusively positive news coverage of your death, here’s a good first step: Don’t commit a sex crime.

•••

The hubbub over Gilroy Unified School District’s high school attendance boundaries has me rolling my eyes.

The uproar could have been diminished, I believe, if the boundary committee had done its work in public instead of behind closed doors. That way, all interested parties could have seen for themselves the impossibility of creating boundaries that please everyone.

In addition, committee members could have taken input from interested parties early in the process, when it might have a real impact on the outcome. Instead, the committee held two token public meetings late in the process when they were only willing to tweak the plan that they’d spent long hours crafting behind closed doors.

And of course, had GUSD officials taken seriously the suggestion of creating single-gender high schools, the entire attendance-boundaries flap would have been avoided.

Single-gender high schools have numerous academic and social benefits. The opening of a second high school is a rare opportunity that’s ripe for creating one high school for boys and another for girls.

I still have don’t know why single-gender high schools weren’t even a possibility for Gilroy. I’ll have to assume, while I roll my eyes, that single-gender high schools, a model that so many top-tier private high schools adopt, are too creative, too cutting edge.

That’s too bad.

•••

Finally, I’m shaking my head after a spate of stories that demonstrate widespread intolerance of people with disabilities:

• An Illinois teacher was convicted of two felonies last week because he taped a special education child’s arms and legs to his chair and taped the child’s mouth shut. Here’s how the teacher explained himself: “I thought it was appropriate because my other option would have been to yell at the students and I didn’t want to do that.”

• A Florida kindergarten teacher allegedly asked her students to say what they didn’t like about a 5-year-old classmate and then held a kindergarten “tribal council” at which the boy – who is being evaluated for Asperger’s syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder – was voted out of the class 14-2.

• A priest in Minnesota sought – and received – a restraining order to keep a mother from bringing her 13-year-old autistic son to mass. The boy’s mother, a devout Catholic, violated the restraining order on Mother’s Day and is being prosecuted.

I shake my head and wonder: Why is it that so many of us cannot tolerate any deviance from a narrowly defined “normal?” Why can’t we see those who are afflicted with these conditions and remember “there, but for the grace of God, go I” instead of recoiling or reacting with anger or fear?

When I learn of stories like these, I shake my head, but I don’t roll my eyes; instead, I dab them.

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