Sunday, December 16, 2018

Since our editorial last week, much has been said about the issues confronting our young people and the steps their families and our local yeshivot are, or should be, taking to navigate these increasingly tough situations involving drugs, alcohol or other substances. When a child is involved in a situation outside of school, is the school within its rights to get involved? Should the school punish the student? Is this the responsibility of the parents? What if the situation involves another student who is threatened by another outside of school? Whose job is it then?

If each of our schools has its own brand and its own rules, how can rules or standards be consistently applied? Have, as Rabbi Pruzansky writes on the opposite page, the schools failed us by responding to the “great variety of offenders under their dominion in inconsistent ways”?

Can even discussing these incidents be a mistake, as it could lead to damaging lashon hara about the children who have been punished in recent months? Do we, perhaps, as a community, not know the whole stories about these expulsions? We know these incidents have not truly happened with a “great variety of offenders,” and actual expulsions have been rare and the recent ones can be counted virtually on one hand. We are also aware of general advice from school principals to students to not share details of their expulsions so as not to hurt their chances of another school taking them in.

Are these “youthful indiscretions”—from which our children will learn and grow beyond? And how can the reactions of school administrators and parents ultimately help them emerge as productive members of our community? What type of support must we provide to help our children along that path, rather than down the slippery slope that may result from these children “living down” to perceived expectations? How can we raise our expectations of them while also providing strong discipline?

If, as Rabbi Rothwachs points out (on page 11), many of our children may not yet be equipped with a fully developed cerebral cortex to make consistently wise decisions in unplanned situations involving alcohol or drugs, then it stands to reason that we are seeing an uptick in this kind of behavior because kids today are just growing up faster than in previous (dial-up internet or even no internet) generations.

It is almost impossible to have rules be consistently applied if the underlying halacha is not agreed upon. What if the halacha of “not giving up on our kids,” as described by Rabbi Pruzansky, has already been applied, in spades?

We know that the hearts of our school administrators are in the right places, and they have been bearing the brunt of the publicity surrounding these issues. We know these school heads do not “give up on their kids.” We also know it is very easy to express opinions on the broad topics of parenting or discipline when we are unaware of a large majority of the details.

We are not social workers, psychologists or school heads. Though we are the editors of this paper, in this case we write as concerned parents and community members. We believe it is perhaps not within our purview to draw conclusions here, though we know there is strong interest from our community on finding a solution.  We want this conversation to be l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven). Perhaps we merely need to begin the conversation and ask our community to keep that in mind and refrain from lashon hara when discussing these topics. We seek your thoughts and suggestions. Please email us at [email protected].