Fault Lines
11 December 2017

Pointy Planes At Andrews High

January 27, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Great news, everyone!

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested 17-year-old David Michael Elliott after his instructor, Edward McIver, told them he was struck in the eye by a paper airplane he threw during class. He was charged with third-degree assault and battery.

The charming borough of Andrews, S.C., population: 2850, has apparently eradicated all crime. Is there another explanation for why they’re throwing public resources at this most de minimis of de minimis offenses? The only thing I can think of is that McIver is one scary guy, and everyone’s too afraid of him to say no when he asks for something dumb.

So what happened, exactly? Georgetown County’s paper of record, the South Strand Post, went the extra mile and pulled the incident report.

McIver – a science teacher, who also serves on the Florence Public School District One Board of Trustees – contacted the school resource officer, Deputy Paul Glover, and told him he had been struck in the eye. In the report, Glover noted McIver’s eye appeared “very red.” Glover said McIver was “very upset” about being struck in the eye because of a recent ocular surgery.

McIver reported he spoke with other students, Glover said, who told him Elliott threw the paper airplane at him during class. He added, Glover said, he and Elliott had been involved in past confrontations over Elliott’s behavior and “something needs to be done.” Glover said McIver also told him, if Elliott was responsible, he wanted to press charges.

For those of you worried about intent, Elliott ‘fessed up when Officer Glover took him to see the vice principal. (Parents, it’s never too soon to tell your kids about shutting up in the presence of cops.)

Glover reported he then met with Elliott and a vice principal in the school’s conference room. It was then, he said, Elliott said he did throw the paper airplane at McIver. Elliott added he intended to hit McIver in the head, Glover said, instead of the eye. Glover added Elliott did not provide a “logical reason” as to why he threw the airplane at McIver.

I’m delighted by Officer Glover’s suggestion that there could be a rational basis for throwing a paper plane at your teacher’s head. Somehow, I feel sure terrorism would be involved.

As someone who used to lock his English teacher in an empty classroom,* I empathize with McIver. Teenagers are a giant pain in the ass. They’re self-absorbed, inattentive, truculent,** everything a well-adjusted adult would want to avoid in the people he spends time with. And they act out. Repeatedly. Nor can it be fun to take a paper plane to the eye right after you get expensive surgery. It must’ve been infuriating, and if McIver didn’t react with Mr. Hand-like patience and concern for his wayward pupil, who can blame him?

But dragging Elliott to the SRO on duty and demanding he be charged with a crime takes things to a whole nother level. There’s a reason why teenagers behave differently from the rest of us: their brains are different. They’re impulsive and underestimate risk because their prefrontal cortices are underdeveloped, and they’re bad at prioritizing long-term gains over immediate gratification because their axons aren’t sheathed in myelin.

We distinguish between the gentleman who throws an Egg McMuffin at his waitress because it contains sausage, not ham and the 17-year-old who throws a paper plane at his teacher’s face because we expect the adult to have the cognitive hardware to make a better decision. Kids don’t, and that mental unpreparedness is a big part of why police departments are reluctant to hire teenagers and people in their early twenties. (It can, however, be an asset in the military; a tendency to underestimate risk is valuable in people who’re going to storm Omaha Beach.) Legally, the result of taking it into account is reduced culpability and milder punishments for young offenders.

Educators, of all people, should understand that their charges struggle with acting reasonably and temperately. And you’d hope a high school science teacher would have enough experience and book learning to get the point. If he’s convicted, Elliott won’t receive the thirty-day maximum S.C. provides for assault and battery in the third degree. But he will be left with a misdemeanor on his record, and for McIver to commit Elliott to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system over a peccadillo like this is a crass violation of his moral duty to ensure good outcomes for his students.

It’s not even excusable as a rage-driven lapse of judgment, because McIver, unlike Elliott, is an adult with a beautifully developed brain who should be able to put his job before his feelz. It’s a sad day when teachers don’t act more maturely than the paper-plane-flinging teens who piss them off.

There’s another weird thing: how unwilling anyone was to take responsibility for the decision to charge Elliott. The principal’s comment is representative.

When asked if she felt Elliott’s arrest was warranted, AHS Principal Michelle Greene said she thought the incident did constitute an assault, but added deputies make the ultimate determination as to whether criminal charges are filed.

“That’s the law enforcement side,” Greene said. “That is a violation of school policy, but if law enforcement … deem it necessary to get a warrant for it, then that’s what happens. The school does not interfere with law enforcement business, and they don’t interfere with ours.”

I’m sorry, but bullshit. McIver went to Glover and demanded Elliott be charged. If Greene, his boss, had countermanded that request or sat McIver down and talked sense into him, would Glover still have gone through with it? For that matter, what if Greene had talked to Glover and asked him to exercise that most ephemeral of law enforcement powers, discretion? If empathy or duty couldn’t get her to move her ass, maybe the thought of all the negative press should’ve done it.

We regularly pass bad, overbroad laws and, in so doing, expect police and prosecutors to sand off the rough edges by not pursuing people over conduct “everyone knows” shouldn’t be illegal. (No cop would arrest someone for owning a Revolutionary War flintlock pistol in gun-shy New Jersey, right? And surely no prosecutor would turn it into a case?) Similarly, police in schools are a standing invitation to use the criminal justice system to handle things that should be left to counselors or detention teachers. The only real protection is teacher and cop discretion.

But unfortunately, discretion requires reflection. It asks you to weigh the pros and cons of two different outcomes, even think about the welfare of the person who broke the rules. It’s the exact opposite of getting mad because one of your students hit you in the eye with a paper plane, running to the nearest cop and demanding he take the kid to jail.

The real children at Andrews High are the notional adults: the teacher who threw a tantrum, the cop who decided to arrest a teen instead of telling the teacher to walk it off and the supervisors who were too apathetic to do anything about it. Parents who’re fine with cops in their schools need to realize people like this are in charge of deciding whether their children go to jail.

As for McIver, he can take consolation in the knowledge that he’s not the first high school science teacher to confront someone and get something painful to the face. Perhaps next time, he can handle it with a little more grace than his colleague from New Mexico. And show a little more care for the young people in his charge.

*I’m sorry, Dr. Dreher.

**But as you can see, I did pay attention in class.

8 Comments on this post.

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  • Jack
    27 January 2017 at 10:42 am - Reply

    I think you give far too much leeway to the precious snowflake sitting in the class. 17 years old is old enough to know that you don’t throw things at the teacher regardless of whether it’s a nerf ball or a brick. Mix that with Teachers who have little to no recourse for discipline in their classrooms due to eager parents and their ever anxious lawyers who happily sue school districts at the drop of a hat and you end up with this scenario. Stick to your lawyering, you obviously don’t know shit about teaching in the modern classroom and what goes on in there.

    • David Meyer Lindenberg
      27 January 2017 at 10:45 am - Reply

      Graphite jungle.

      Edited to add, because, for whatever reason, I don’t feel like being glib: Give him detention. Y’know, like people used to do back when nobody would’ve considered jeopardizing a kid’s future over a classroom stunt. The idea behind discipline is to incentivize kids to make the right decisions: it’s not that they don’t know throwing things at their teacher is wrong, but that they have a hard time resisting the urge to do it anyway. It’s part and parcel of teaching. We expect the teacher to resist the urge to put his hurt feelz before the kid’s well-being; if he can’t do it, maybe he’d be better-suited to a career as a jailhouse screw. Pays better, too.

    • Greg Prickett
      27 January 2017 at 12:13 pm - Reply

      Jack, based on the facts, it appears that the “precious snowflake” is the one at the front of the class, not the kid with the paper plane.

  • RICHARD KOPF
    27 January 2017 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    David,

    I ask for a friend.

    When does the statute of limitation run against a 17-year-old high school student, bloated by 3.2 beer, who used a rubber band to fire a paper clip at the head of a Spanish teacher causing said Spanish teacher to yelp in terror but not in Spanish?*

    All the best.

    RGK

    *By the way: No habla espanol.

    • David Meyer Lindenberg
      28 January 2017 at 4:00 am - Reply

      Su Señoría,

      no lo sé, pero estoy bien seguro de que Dios no se olvida de nada y el infierno es real. Además, sus tormentos duran para siempre.

      Besos y abrazos,
      David

      • RICHARD KOPF
        28 January 2017 at 11:02 pm - Reply

        David,

        First, große smarty, I ain’t hugging or kissing you no matter what you say. Second, as for God, she is too busy to care. Third, as for hell, what the fuck do you call this veil of tears?

        All the best.

        RGK

  • wet blanket
    27 January 2017 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    i hate to be the wet blanket here, but are you sure this filing a police report doesn’t have to do with the teacher being worried about having to get eye surgery again and not wanting to pay for it? I mean, you’re talking like the teacher has it in for the kid and maybe he does, but there might be an insurance reason why the teacher has to file a report, no? It’s not fair for the teacher to have to pay for an expensive surgery again to give the kid ‘a break’.

    • David Meyer Lindenberg
      28 January 2017 at 2:04 am - Reply

      Aw. You’re not a wet blanket, and it’s a good question. Georgetown County School District, building on S.C. workers’ comp law, requires the teacher, not a cop to fill out an incident report. A supervisor (someone like Principal Greene) also has to be notified, and she has to notify the insurance carrier unless she believes the injury to be minor.

      In other words, there was no reason for McIver to go to the police even if that was his angle, which I doubt.

      (Fun fact: far from making policies that require police involvement in assault-on-a-teacher cases, some school districts forbid it unless the cops are needed to keep the kid from doing further damage.)