Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Snowy Day

Honor student wonders why there's no snow day when it snows, calls school official to talk about it, gets an icy blast of a reply from official's wife, posts said response on line where it goes viral.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Snow days, kids and school officials have always been a delicate mix.

But a phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator's home last week about a snow day -- or lack of one -- has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students' First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

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!"

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it -- a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students' online networking, it's harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori's call and Tistadt's response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student's actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted.

And so forth. Supposedly you can hear the rant here. Candy Tistadt is in horrified seclusion, having "learned a hard lesson about the long reach of the Internet."

But my favorite quote in the story is this one, from Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier, who blamed Kori, not Candy Tistadt, for having 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.

[Emphasis added]

Ahem. Once upon a time, receiving the public and answering its questions about your work was an essential definition of the job of an American public servant. Even the president had to do it. Now, evidently, democracy is harassment.