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Posted at 9:10 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Texas student fined $637 for cursing in class

By Valerie Strauss

A suburban Dallas teenager who cursed in class was fined $637 and is working as a waitress to pay the debt.

The episode began last fall at North Mesquite High School. Senior Victoria Mullins, 17, was in class when, she said, “a kid who is really obnoxious” started to bother her, according to the Dallas Morning News.

According to court records, teacher Michelle Lene heard Mullins say “you trying to start [expletive],” and Lene reported her.

Mullins received a ticket for breaching the peace by cursing, and was originally fined $340 though, later, a $100 penalty was tacked on when she failed to up for a Nov. 18 court hearing.

Then another $50 was added when the city issued a warrant for her arrest Jan. 21, and on top of that, $147 as a collection fee.

Mullins said the whole class couldn’t hear her and she didn’t know why the teacher was offended. She didn’t show up for her court hearing, she said, because she didn’t have the money to pay the original fine.

Now she’s working as a waitress to make enough money to pay the debt.

Fining kids for swearing: Good idea or bad idea?


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 1, 2011; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  Discipline  | Tags:  cursing, cursing in class, cussing, discipline, school discipline, student fined for cursing, swearing  
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Comments

What's the point?

There is cursing every day in my classroom, and one kid out of several million had the bad luck to find a cop who would actually write a summons, and a judge who didn't dismiss it out of hand.

I think we need to develop effective discipline, which is sadly lacking (especially in DCPS), but I'm pretty sure making a kid work 80-120 hours as a waitress for cursing is probably overkill and probably counter-productive.

That said, we are sadly lacking in disciplinary actions that actually have an effect on misbehaving students, and if we can't find any I suspect you will here more stories like this.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 1, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Our job as educators is to provide the educational background for a successful life after school. Although I believe parents have the primary responsibility for moral training, we'd be setting very poor examples if we (as teachers) allowed inappropriate behavior. How many job interviewers would hire a candidate who used profanity during the interview?

Posted by: alcoleman | February 1, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Free speech and student discipline for swearing oftentimes clash in classrooms and courtrooms across the country. A reasonable balance is called for on a case-by-case basis.
Take a look at http://www.askthejudge.info/high-school-cracks-down-on-cussing/7292/for more regarding student speech and school responsibility.
Respectfully, -Judge Tom.

Posted by: tomjacobs59 | February 1, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Must be the only district in Texas that would do that. I teach in a district near Houston and have written up kids for cursing, called parents, complained, etc, and nothing gets done. "Handle it", I'm told. Course, if I tape their mouths like 'reformer' Rhee, I'd get fired. Or if I used the same language with them, I'd get reprimanded. I think the story is probably false.

Posted by: peonteacher | February 1, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Kids will stop swearing when movie stars, athletes, parents and teachers stop swearing.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | February 1, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

that's not right how can we punish someone when were the ones to teach them. She had to have herd it growing up from adults ie parents movies stars singers ect ect ect sounds like that teacher is just abusing there power

Posted by: leighea | February 1, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

While I certainly agree that swearing is not appropriate behaviour and certainly does not belong in the classroom, this goes way too far.

Perhaps the teacher was correct in seeking some form of punishment (even though this incident seems rather mild and might have been isolated), but she stepped way over the line. Having the student criminally charged and arrested is absurd. Adults swear all the time and they aren't arrested for cursing. Some of my teachers in high school occasionally swore, but nothing was done about that.

A more appropriate response would have been a warning, or removal from the class (i.e. send her to the office), or a discussion with her parents, or detention, or a suspension if there is a history of inappropriate behaviour and language. Any one of those things would have been reasonable.

Yes, swearing is rude. But a lot of things are rude. I think this teacher (and whatever idiot judge signed the arrest warrant) need to realize that you can't just go around arresting people because you don't like what they did or consider it rude. Swearing is impolite and a matter for the child's parents, not a matter for the courts of law.

Posted by: Wander099 | February 1, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

The complexity of the issues involved here are belied by Ms. Strauss's seemingly simple question, "Fining kids for swearing: Good idea or bad idea?"

It's never as simple as it seems; it never is. A review of the original article in The Dallas Morning News -- especially the appended readers' comments, including those of the disciplined student and another teacher in a classroom down the hall from the room in which the incident occurred -- argues that student Victoria Mullins is bearing the brunt of a broken system and misbehavior by adults, not her.

Leadership turnover, inconsistent administrative and teacher applications of policies and consequences, troubled and troublesome faculty and administration relationships, and a questionable classroom environment, generate more than enough blame and responsibility to go around -- most it firmly in the laps of the numerous adults involved.

My first thought about this story is of the absence of any focus on the alleged behavior that started this sad fiasco, the actions of the classmate which supposedly sparked Ms. Mullins's outburst. There's no way to know if that student's "really obnoxious" behavior is typical of that classroom's climate, but we should question why Mullins's outburst is punished, but apparently there's no concern about the instigating behavior. Which is worse, possible mistreatment of a classmate or the spontaneous outburst which even the FCC permits on broadcast TV and radio? Given that teacher Ms. Lené may also have been prone to similar outbursts in the class, how much and what kind of discipline does Mullins's action warrant?

We can't stop at Lené's door, however, since she only escalated the response after being dissatisfied with administration's assignment of lunch detention to Mullins. However, imagine teenager Mullins's thoughts and emotions after having the matter settled -- and then reopened three hours later with a visit from a cop. What message about mature behavior does that send her and her classmates?

This is the juncture where the adults truly erred, and the minor pays for those mistakes. Saying a mild expletive in a classroom does not warrant a ticket from a police officer, but that only happened because the teacher did not agree with her administrator's actions. Instead of dealing with the other adults involved in the situation over the true problem, Lené took out her frustrations with the system on a child by calling in a police officer. While the student's actions may have required something more than lunch detention, it is only because of the broken adult system that she received another -- but greater -- inappropriate punishment.

Let's hope that North Mesquite High School is truly aware of what is wrong so the children don't continue to pay for the mistakes of the adults. Let's hope that more than North Mesquite High School is reflecting (and acting) on this lesson.

Posted by: ErvAddison | February 1, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that she was fined 3.5 times as much for the word as she was for not showing up in court. If she thought she could just not show up because "she didn’t have the money to pay the original fine," then the school needs to spend more time teaching basic government and less worrying about individual words. (By the way, did her parents let her skip the court date? Or don't the courts in Texas have to contact a minor's parents?)

And note that she was not actually using the word in an offensive manner but just to describe somebody else's actions. It is entirely possible that a teenager today may honestly not have known any other word for the concept. Maybe she should have been sentenced to spend the money on a class or a book to increase her vocabulary.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 1, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

And adults continue to act like children around children. Now it's in our backyard (Spotsylvania)--
Spitball-Equivalent Incident Gets Boy, 14, Expelled From High School and Criminally Charged (ABA Journal, 2/1/11)

Posted by: ErvAddison | February 1, 2011 11:13 PM | Report abuse

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