A Matter Of (Im)propriety?

So here’s the deal:

It started with Thursday’s snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj “Dave” S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt’s wife.

“How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody’s house and complain about it,” Candy Tistadt’s minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase “snotty-nosed little brats,” and near the end, she said, “Get over it, kid, and go to school!”

(Here’s a link to the audio on Youtube.)  

Now, the kid’s question, in and of itself, isn’t really that big of a deal, right?  Up here in Vermont they don’t close schools over a little snow–it takes a lot to close them down.  We’re used to it.  3 inches isn’t a big deal.  Many school districts, however, have instituted call-chains, at least one district is now equipped with an automated notification system that robo-calls parents to notify them of school closings, or many still distribute teacher and administrator home phone numbers in case the school cannot be reached for some reason.  Different districts have taken various approaches to ensure that parents, students, and teachers have an open line of communication so that everyone is informed.  To me that seems a reasonable approach, and a community-based solution.  Hardly the approach that the principle’s wife seems to have embraced, and perhaps she and her husband should reconsider their place in the public arena. 

The problem that has everyone really worked up about this is what happened next:

Kori took Tistadt’s message, left on his cellphone, and posted an audio link on a Facebook page he had created after he got home from school called “Let them know what you think about schools not being cancelled.” The Web page listed Dean Tistadt’s work and home numbers. . .

Kori explained his perspective in an e-mail yesterday to Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier. Regnier said, also in an e-mail, that Kori’s decision to place the phone call to the Tistadts’ home was more likely the result of a “civility gap.”

“It’s really an issue of kids learning what is acceptable and not acceptable. Any call to a public servant’s house is harassment,” Regnier said in an interview.

It occurs to me that there are three separate issues here in question:

  1. Was Mrs. Tistadt’s response appropriate?
  2. Was the posting of Dean Tistadt’s home phone number on the internet appropriate?
  3. (And this one really bugs me) Does “any call” to a public servant’s house constitute harassment?

For me, the answers are pretty cut and dry: No, No, No.  Yet the internet is aflame with differing opinions on this, and so I put the questions to you.  What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “A Matter Of (Im)propriety?

  1. I beg to differ. Calling this man’s house was clearly out of line. Come on, you know that and he knew that. If this man’s wife got so hot under the collar it’s precisely because she felt harassed in her own home by the message. How would you feel? I completely disagree that her reaction was unappropriate. That kid had it coming to him and I hope his parents ground him for a good long time to make him think a bit about how he treated this “public” employee and his family. Now wait while I have a long hard laugh about your comment on this person’s place in the “public arena”…. your kidding right? I mean, I would hardly call a school employee a public figure. Not one that needs to bow down to the every hungry demands of the “public” (a la Britney Spears). Yah right! Maybe if you took a look at his paycheck you’d reconsider the amount of shit he should be willing to take, from, let’s face it, a pretty snotty brat! Now we get down to the Facebook issue. Publishing the message. Publishing this guy’s number. Here’s where I’m going to stop being nice about this kid’s shinanigans. For this he should do time in a correctional institute. His parents should pay a heavy fine for not having taught this child respect, decency, ethics or even common sense. I hope they make an example of this brat and throw the books at him!

  2. Evidently you didn’t read what I wrote above: it is a matter of common practice for parents, teachers, and students in Vermont to have open lines of communication precisely about snowfall. I had several of my teachers’ home phone numbers when I was in high school for precisely that reason. Your ire is misguided. One phone call does not constitute harassment, particularly when the principal was unreachable at his work number. You ask me how I would feel? I would feel fine if the inquiry was a polite and reasonable one. It’s not like the student was asking me anything personal or untoward, but was rather questioning public policy. And as an administrator I would know going into the job that I was bound to be held responsible for my decisions, and would work with the student body and parents to rectify any problems before letting my wife berate those held in my charge.

    You state:

    I mean, I would hardly call a school employee a public figure.

    If this were a janitor or lunch lady then I would agree, but teachers and administrators who are answerable to the PTA and School Board are certainly public figures.

    I suspect that a student with a 3.9777 GPA has a good deal of respect and ethics, and also responsibility. I assume that you would rather he be a lemming and not question any type of authority. Have a nice stay in Cuba.

  3. the wife’s reaction was over the top and i am glad the kid busted her.

    today’s kids are used to having unlimited contact with their communities and unlimited outlets for self-expression.

    this kid is clever with a distrust for authority. that is both wonderful and natural. the obedient ones have had the play scared out of them.

    screw propriety and the old rules — it’s a new world baby!

  4. I think the wife needs some anger management. I imagine her husband said “what were you thinking”.

    The remark about a stay in Cuba – has no place here. In my humble opinion.

  5. The remark about a stay in Cuba – has no place here. In my humble opinion.

    Why is that? If Rose wishes to live in a place where authority isn’t questioned, then that’s the proper place for her to go.

  6. I am in total agreement with Rose and saddened by the liberal sentiment of colio2007. Kids these days have a tremendous lack of respect for authority figures and are absolutely oblivious to responsibility. They want what they want, when they want it.

    I think Candy Tistadt deserves a trophy for telling it like it is and Kori should be taught a lesson.

  7. KC, does it not strike you that a 17 year old with an immense sense of responsibility would find it his duty to call into question the decision to not close the school if students’ lives were put in jeopardy by having to travel to school in unsafe conditions? My experience has been that high GPA’s do correspond to a high sense of responsibility.

    As I understand it, Virginia and Virginians are ill-prepared to deal with significant snowfall and drivers prone to accidents in such weather. Which is why DC basically shuts down if there’s an inch on the ground. So why, indeed, did the principle not close the school? That question hasn’t been answered or addressed as far as I can tell.

  8. I think Rose is a little off base. She makes it sound like this kid threw a molotov cocktail through the Dean’s living room window! On the other hand, I’m not sure that this kid should have called the administrator’s house. He could have left a voicemail at the office number and waited for a response.

    I don’t quite agree with Jamie either. Just because the kid has a 3.977 GPA doesn’t mean he’s responsible or ethical. Maybe he’s just smart, or really good at cheating? A GPA says something about your ability succeed in our school system, but nothing about your personality or character.

    Strikes me that this kid is probably smart and proud (maybe arrogant… he’s quoted listing his GPA out to three decimals!) and while his message may have been “polite” on the surface, it’s possible he came across as a snot-nosed punk who thought he was being very clever. Easy to see how this could piss off the Dean’s wife.

    It’s tough decide when the line was actually crossed for the first time, since noone has head this kid’s message except her.

    That said, she should not have called back, she should have been the adult and addressed it to the Dean to handle in a professional manner.

    The kid should not have posted the dean’s number either.

    Finally phonecalls to the homes of public servants? Not always harrassment, but I would bet that 9 times out of 10, it could be considered very rude.

  9. Guess what? I agree with you regarding the weather situation. But, it is not up to a 17 year-old, regardless of GPA (in MY experience) to take matters into his own hands by harassing the Tistadt home and then posting Mr. Tistadt’s private contact information on Facebook. On the practical side, how would you like to stop what you are doing and go through the process of changing all your contact information? I would send Kori’s family a bill for my time.

  10. I agree that posting the information online was completely out of line–and said so in the initial post.

    But I disagree that calling the principal’s home one time is harassment.

    Perhaps it has to do with my own history as an honors student, and the fact that all my friends were, as well, but we were all civic-minded geeks and were given home contact numbers for our teachers and the Principal. We were encouraged to call if we had concerns or questions that we didn’t want to bring up in front of the class and after-school activities didn’t permit. And we liked our teachers, for the most part.

    I think the whole debacle points to an atmosphere that’s not wholly conducive to learning because there’s an evidently adversarial role between faculty and students. I’m certainly glad that I was spared from that.

  11. A school system’s C.O.O. is most assuredly a public figure and certainly is required to answer to the public regarding their actions in the course of their job. Inclement weather policy would, again, be something that falls under their job, at least nominally, and is thus open for question.

    At the same time, if one has questions regarding the C.O.O.’s performance or actions on the job, it doesn’t take a MENSA member to understand that those questions should be addressed to them at their place of employment rather than at their home. While their number may be part of phone tress for inclement weather notification, that number is given as a courtesy and that needs to be respected. Although, I wasn’t sure from the original quote if this is the case or if calling the number “listed” meant it was found in the phone book.

    Regardless, Mrs. Tistadt’s response was, in and of itself, inappropriate. If she truly felt this constituted “harassment” then the sensible course of action would have been to immediately call the police and inform them of the situation. The fact that she took it upon herself to call Kori back and ream him out shows that she lacks the same level of civility she seems to be demanding from others. A teenager behaving inappropriately doesn’t negate an adult’s responsibility for good behavior. Mrs. Tistadt is the adult in this situation and it is her responsibility to act like one. Clearly she didn’t. To cheer Mrs. Tistadt on or see her as some sort of righteous avenger is to basically give tacit support to Kori’s behavior.

    Kori’s further action, of posting the website, was again over the line, particularly since it was Kori’s own inappropriate action that started the problem in the first place. Were Kori truly concerned about Tistadt’s message, a more reasonable chain of escalation would have been to Mr. Tistadt, then the school superintendent of the county and then the local media. The second one is admittedly a bit iffy as Mrs. Tistadt is not an employee of the school board and I know I would be irate if someone called my home number to complain about my spouse’s work.

    So, in the end, no one behaved very well in this situation. Everybody blew it multiple times and made inappropriate choices. Pointing to one and saying, “They were justified,” is ridiculous because the bad actions of A never excuse the bad actions of B.

  12. I agree the answer is no, no, no. I was always taught never say or write anything that you don’t want published in the newspaper. The phone numbers are already public information on a web site. The student did not harass the school administrator nor his family. He simply asked a question which is no different than a journalist or parent making the same inquiry. If we could hear that recording I’m sure he’s speaking in a more civil tone (or she’d have that recording released). Mrs. Tistadt clearly over reacted. Apparently it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Age in this case does not matter. It’s the one with the most self control that shows the most maturity.

  13. “Civility gap”? Is that the new PC term for “rude snot-nosed brat”?

    If “Dave” had called and said “I wanted to inquire whether school will be closed today because the recent snowfall” – that would be one thing. He didn’t. He asked why the schools hadn’t been closed.

    If I had done at his age, I’d still be getting my ass whipped and I would have been made to personally apologize to the man and his family.

    There may be an open line of communication policy, but my parents would have made sure that I knew it meant their line of communication…not mine. If school was open, you go to school.

  14. As to the hows and whys, let us be very clear on what this kid did; he called a school administrator at home during lunch because he did not want to wait for the message he allegedly left at the administrator’s office on a non-emergency situation.

    During the day, people are at work and they do not instantly answer messages. An intelligent high school student would know and realize such things. Furthermore, an intelligent high school student would realize that a school administrator has more pressing issues to deal with than his question about a decision that was already made.

    And to me, this is a challenge.

    “People in my generation view privacy differently. We are the cellphone generation. We are used to being reached at all times,” he said.

    My answer would be, “Fine. Let’s post your number and your family’s home number and encourage people to call YOU at all hours and whine.”

    Something tells me he’d change his views on privacy very quickly.

  15. Firstly, the kid wasn’t calling to find out “if” schools were closed. He was calling to harrass and complain.

    Was her response appropriate? Yes, I think it was because she isn’t a representative of the school, she’s just someone on the receiving end of the kid’s harassment. Accepting this would be like saying that spouses of service members in the Army are legitimate targets.

    Was the posting of the dean’s home phone number on the internet appropriate? No, this is a continuation of the harassment and it’s solely designed to get others to join in the harassment. Yes, call his office and complain or file a complaint with the schools system. Calling someones home is out of line and would only lead to good people leaving public office. Would you want a hundred phone calls every time you made a decision that affected others?

    Does “any call” to a public servant’s house constitute harassment? Yes it does unless the public servant invites feedback. Again, you call his office during business hours, not 6:30am to his home. Bypassing established and legitimate routes for complaint is not acceptable, ever. I would make an exception for members of the press and members of the press never post people’s home numbers and such.

    Think about the repercussions if this behavior was accepted. Who would ever want to be a school administrator in that environment?

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