Thursday, November 30, 2006

A study word for Ms. Cloutet : consequences

Danny Guillory is the principal of Covington High School in Covington, Louisiana. He has just returned from a two-month vacation, compliments of the School Board, because he was convicted of DWI. Guillory was caught driving 83 mph. on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (the speed limit is 65 mph.), and he refused to take a field sobriety test. He was given a $500 fine, two years of probation, and an order to do forty-eight hours of community service.

It could have been worse. This was Guillory's second DWI conviction. He received his first one when he was a teacher in the Mandeville, Louisiana schools. However, that occurred more than ten years ago, so his recent conviction was treated as a first offense.

Feelings about Guillory's return have been mixed. Some people think he should not have been allowed to return to his position as head of a high school. Others thought he should be "forgiven."

As far as I know, there has been no organized parent movement to prevent Guillory's return, but that doesn't surprise me. In Mandeville, for example, it is not uncommon for parents to throw keg parties for their kids because "we'd rather they drink at home." A Covington High parent, Lisa Cloutet, says that she is "elated" over Guillory's return.

"I know he's in that role as a mentor or leader," says Cloutet, "but my opinion is if kids are going to drink, they're going to drink no matter if Danny Guillory drinks or not. I just don't see it as a big problem."

As though the problem is that Danny Guillory "drinks." When Guillory went on his drunken joyride on the Causeway, he could have easily killed me, or--for that matter--Cloutet's children. He could have left us brain-injured. At the very least, he could have wrecked our cars and broken our bones.

Whether Guillory is alcoholic or an alcohol abuser is not relevant when it comes to his drunk driving. Perhaps his apology to the school will be backed up by recovery or a behavior change, and perhaps it won't. That isn't the issue. The issue is that 16- and 17-year-olds believe they cannot die, they have very poor impulse control, they do what their peers do, and many of them doubtless think it is way cool that their principal drank a half-case of beer or a half-quart of vodka or whatever he drank, drove the Causeway at an outrageous speed, and survived to return to their school. Two months off, $500, volunteer at a nursing home, and coast clear.

Guillory is obviously well-regarded, and one hopes he will do well in the future. But again, that is not the issue. The issue is that parents like Lisa Cloutet do not see what happened as a "big issue." Yes, her kids probably are going to drink; kids do. All the more reason that they learn, first-hand, that there are consequences for the inappropriate use of a drug.

I'm also quite certain that if there had been a revelation that the Covington High principal was gay, or that he was an athiest, or a member of the Green Party, he would be looking for a job in another state. But a drunken spree on a highway in Louisiana is no big deal.

Obviously, I think it would have been better if Guillory had not been allowed to return. But my strong feelings are not really about whether he stays or goes. They are about the failure of parents to understand that when children, their parents, and their role models can get away with cheating, abusing and endangering, the children learn a huge lesson, and it isn't a pretty one.

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