South Albany High School to students: Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will get you suspended.
South is cracking down on cursing this year, to the tune of suspending students any time their, um, stuff hits the fan.
Principal Brent Belveal, now one month into his first year at South Albany, said staff members told him shortly after he joined the administration that profanity was a campus concern.
The new policy: Mention a potentially off-color word — that one that rhymes with “witch,” say — and you’ll probably get a warning. Stronger language means stronger measures.
“If they drop an ‘F’-bomb, which is one people really get offended by, that’s going to be a suspension,” Belveal said.
Belveal met with each class in the first few weeks of school to outline the enforcement policy. Part of South Albany’s job is to train students for future job situations, he said, and most employers don’t tolerate foul language.
The bottom line: “We’re trying to help you to learn how to be productive employees.”
Staff, too, are watching their mouths, even in the faculty room, Belveal said. “It’s not OK for us, either.”
As of Sept. 29, five students had run afoul for being foul. Three were speaking in generalities in a school common area and got a half to three-quarters of a day of in-school suspension. One was in a classroom and was sent home for a day.
The fifth was directed at a staff member, Belveal said, and so “became more than language as it escalated into a multiple-day suspension out of school for defiance/disrespectful behavior.”
Students say they notice a difference.
“So far, it’s been working. People are definitely looking twice when they say something,” said senior Derek Hisgen, 17.
“I like it,” Senior Class President Katy Babcock said. “I like walking down the hallway and not having to listen to people saying, ‘F’ this and ‘F’ that. The teachers are actually doing something about it.”
Sophomores Nicky Gangewer and Ally Sims said the worst thing about on-campus swearing is that most of it is descriptive of, or directed at, specific people.
The new policy, Sims said, “helps people be not so uncomfortable. It was a problem last year.”
But freshman Kenzie Laster said she finds the policy hypocritical — “It’s not like they didn’t say it when they were in our grade” — and overly harsh.
And Sims acknowledges she’s worried about equality. What if one staff member doesn’t feel like being The Enforcer, she wondered, and another one does?
Some adults share those concerns.
South parent Lane Bergman said he believes “kids should know the rules,” but admits he’s been known to cuss around his own teens.
He doesn’t like the idea of teachers horning in on students’ private conversations, and he thinks a list of the forbidden words is the only way to ensure equal application.
“You can’t have a teacher and principal making it up as they go,” he said.
Belveal concurs, but admits such a list is tricky.
Hell? Fine in a Biblical context. Probably not if you’re giving someone directions.
Crap? “I would speak with the student: ‘That’s not a very endearing term,’” the principal said.
Words referring to body waste? General condemnation? Personal anatomy?
It would depend on the situation, Beveal said, such as whether a personal verbal assault is involved.
“It’s hard to draw the line,” he said.
Still, Belveal is determined to try.
“I think the message is getting out there, we want this to be a good place for people to be,” he said. “Maybe language is tied into that a little bit.”