Mimesis Law
24 May 2017

The Dangerous Baby Carrot Caper

Oct. 30, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Mom would have told you not to do it because it could take someone’s eye out. But then, Mom wouldn’t have ratted you out to the cops for it. That’s because Mom’s love you, and the whole eye thing is in the Mom handbook. It rarely happens, and doesn’t call for more than a stern admonition, unless you go to George H. Moody Middle School in Virginia.

The student, Aliya Nigro, was suspended and faces criminal charges for throwing a baby carrot at her former teacher, Michele Crowley. The story presents the usual easy targets, like over-criminalization and the terror of zero-tolerance policies. That doesn’t mean problematic conduct shouldn’t be ignored, but it also doesn’t mean they deserve the middle school death penalty.

Pranks now land kids in court. Rigid disciplinary policies result in prosecution for kids so young they may not be sure what court is and still think cops are their friends. But there is a more complicated question running through stories like this – who is responsible for the mindless way we treat children these days?  How did we reach this point?

The Virginia girl who hit a teacher with a carrot did something pretty stupid. Long before zero tolerance, most kids knew that throwing something at your teacher, whether a spitball or a vegetable, was not going to turn out very well. It was a bad decision. It shouldn’t work out well. There should be consequences. But at that age, a child needs to be handled in a manner that makes some logical sense. And that is where the responsibility for these children becomes a concern.

Crowley was hit with a carrot. A very small carrot, but a carrot. Apparently she went to an assistant principal who recorded an “incident summary.” The student admitted to the assistant principal she threw the carrot at the teacher, but said it was supposed to be a joke. You know, kids and their idea of stuff that’s funny. Why can’t they be more mature?

“I was having a good day, and I was walking from math to art, and I had a bag of baby carrots in my pocket from lunch because my intention was to eat them later, if i got hungry,” Nigro told The Daily Beast. “I thought as a simple prank, I’d toss the carrot over.”

The response? The honor roll student has been suspended for several weeks now. According to the New York Post, she has not returned to school since the day after the incident. That will certainly help to teach her the wrongfulness of her ways, even though she may fall behind on, you know, math.

All of this seems harsh for the modern-day equivalent of the old spitball, making the next step even harder to even imagine. One of these school employees, the adults we charge with raising our children during the school day, made a complaint to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. The student now faces charges of assault and battery on a teacher in the Henrico County juvenile court.

In case you think there must be a reasonable person in the legal system who will step in and stop this nonsense, think again. This young lady will find herself subject to a juvenile justice system in serious need of reform. She is in a state where the Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for assault on a police officer for pointing a finger at a cop and saying “pow.”

Richmond lawyer, Todd Stone, quoted in a few of the articles, makes some good puns about the carrot. But at the end of the day, nobody should be laughing this one off. The letter from the Department of Juvenile Justice, while generously noting the student is innocent until proven guilty, also claims there is substantial evidence she has committed a crime.

At what point should a grown up have stepped in and said, “Wait, this is a kid – maybe we should make sure the punishment fits the … prank?” An apology, an explanation for her actions, or anything that would have set the lesson that she needs to stop and think before she acts, would have been not only appropriate, but highly valuable to a student preparing for her future.

Surely kids should be held accountable for reckless decisions and impulsive judgment calls. But we know harsh discipline does not work. A recent UCLA study found that frequent suspensions for minor offenses harms education. High suspension rates do not help school conditions. Arresting kids for common school offenses like fighting, vandalism, and other stupid pranks takes them out of the system that should be best equipped to deal with them and puts them in a system that is particularly bad at dealing with both minor offenders and young offenders.

The responsibility for this lies with school administrators and educators. Nigro, facing prosecution for throwing a baby carrot at a teacher in the school hallway, should never have been referred to the criminal system. A middle school teacher, a school counselor, and an assistant principal all had the opportunity to teach her a lesson in responsibility. All of them failed.

At best, this type of behavior by school officials is wasting our time. At worst, it is the primary contributor to the school-to-prison pipeline that is having a drastic effect on our future. Schools should be centered on teaching our students lessons to help them succeed in the real world. This school in Virginia had an opportunity to teach a reckless kid the value of self-reflection, acceptance of responsibility, and the importance of thinking before you act. Instead, it’s just another lesson lost in our public schools.

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