In Loco Parentis

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I’ve heard of people losing their day jobs when it’s discovered they’ve done porn, but it looks like a high-school student has been kicked out of school for doing so. Queerty and several other gay news sources are reporting Cocoa High School (CHS) senior and Sean Cody model “Noel,” has allegedly been suspended and will not be allowed to graduate from his Florida high school, after several of his gay porn videos made their way to his principal’s desk. A Reddit poster claiming to be the cousin of one of “Noel’s” classmates also claims that “Noel” was allegedly “severely bullied” by classmates and suspended for 10 days when his extra-curricular activity became known. According to the Cocoa High School Student Handbook: “When a student’s actions are disruptive to himself/herself or to the school as to violate law, Board Policies, or school rules, the student may be suspended by the Principal or designated representative. Suspension dictates that the student shall not be allowed to attend his or her regular classes or school-sponsored activities for a prescribed number of days not to exceed ten (10).”

The suspension also means he will not be able to graduate in June. According to the student handbook, ten unexcused absences (which a ten day suspension counts as) mean that the student will automatically receive a failure from absences/failure to attend in all of his classes for the semester. “Noel” got severely bullied and, instead of helping him, the school will not let him graduate due to him causing a “campus disturbance.” While some students are defending Noel and promising to protest his treatment, the principal is threatening “to automatically expel any student who joins in.”

Regardless of how you feel about an 18 year old high school student in pornography, is it the responsibility of the school to punish him for activities outside of school? I think the question comes down to the legal responsibilities of school’s in relation to “in loco parentis.” The term in loco parentis, Latin for “in the place of a parent”” refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. It allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit, although not allowing what would be considered violations of the students’ civil liberties.

As an eighteen year old, this young man has full access to his civil liberties and his school should not be able to punish him for something that happened outside of school. Schools have increasingly taken over the responsibilities of the parents of children. Instead of parents teaching their children responsibilities and morality, parents are leaving this up to the school. However, it is not the school’s responsibility to be the parent. Where was “Noel’s” parents when he was off filming pornography in San Diego where Sean Cody is based? If the parents did nothing to stop this, then why does the school get to take over where the parents failed.

To further explain “in loco parentis,” the first major limitation to “in loco parentis” came in the U.S. Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), in which the court ruled that students cannot be forced to salute the American flag. More prominent change came in the 1960s and 1970s in such cases as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), when the Supreme Court decided that “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason – whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior – materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.” Adult speech is also limited by “time, place and manner” restrictions and therefore such limits do not rely on schools acting in loco parentis.

Private institutions are given significantly more authority over their students than public ones, and are generally allowed to arbitrarily dictate rules. However, Cocoa High School, located in Cocoa, Florida, is part of the Brevard Public Schools District. Therefore, Cocoa High School is not protected as a private institution, and thus does not hold the same rights as a private institution does when it comes to legislating moral behavior.

The most significant legal test came from a 1969 Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, in which a school suspended students for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School). In Tinker, the United States Supreme Court defined the constitutional rights of students in public schools by overturning the students’ suspensions. They did say, however, that when a student’s speech interferes substantially with the school’s educational mission, a school may impose discipline. The problem with this decision lies with the interpretation of how “interferes substantially” is defined, since there is subjectivity in this criteria. Tinker is now being cited in off-campus cyber-bullying and YouTube cases when a disruption is caused in the school building due to the aftermath of these incidences. I assume, this will also be used if “Noel’s” suspension is challenged legally.

Justice Clarence Thomas has argued that Tinker’s ruling contradicted “the traditional understanding of the judiciary’s role in relation to public schooling,” and ignored the history of public education. He believed the judiciary’s role to determine whether students have freedom of expression was limited by in loco parentis. He cited Lander v. Seaver (1859) which held that in loco parentis allowed schools to punish student expression that the school or teacher believed contradicted the school’s interests and educational goals. This ruling declared that the only restriction the doctrine imposed were acts of legal malice or acts that caused permanent injury. Neither of these were the case with Tinker. Nor should they be the case with “Noel’s” punishment.

The main problem that I have with the whole situation is that the school is trying to be the parent, when it is the responsibility of the parent to handle the situation. Compound that with the fact that “Noel” is over eighteen years of age, then he has the ability to make his own decisions, at least legally, though his parents should be more active. I have no idea what “Noel’s” family situation is, but whatever it is, I do not believe that it is the school responsibility to be his parent. I deal with students day in and day out who have little parental guidance, and the parents expect us, i.e. teachers and school personnel, to act as the parent and guide their child. I am not saying that it is not the responsibility of teachers and school personnel to help in guiding a child, but the responsibility is ultimately with the parents. “Noel” is not the one who should be punished, but it is his parents who should have to be the ones held responsible, not an eighteen year old kid. No matter who mature an eighteen year old believes he is, he still needs guidance.

Sadly, “Noel” has learned the hard way the consequences of doing porn, but obviously, he is not shy. I would have never had the gumption to pose for porn when I was in high school, and I expect he will find a way to deal with this. Many young porn models perform in order to make money for college. If reports are correct that Sean Cody models usually make $4,000 per scene and “Noel’ has filmed at least five scenes which amounts to at least $20,000 toward his college fund. However, if he isn’t allowed to graduate, will he even be able to attend college? Ultimately, I think the school overreacted in their decision.

P.S. If you are not a fan of gay porn or SeanCody.com but “Noel” looks familiar to you, it is because I used his picture for my “Snow Day” post about two weeks ago.

UPDATE FROM CBS Tampa Bay: School officials have reversed their decision and “Noel” has been allowed back to school.

Local 6 quoted school officials who say the decision to expel was wrong and that they’ve finished their investigation.

“No child would ever be suspended for a job that they have outside of the school environment,” said Michelle Irwin, a spokesperson for the district.

“In this particular case, we had an investigation, which is now complete, and the student is welcomed to come back to talk to Dr. Sullivan about his educational options,” said Irwin.

I will have more on this tomorrow. I want to do a bit more reading and see how much of the story I can get put together for Wednesday’s post.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

11 responses to “In Loco Parentis

  • pinkagendist

    I did porn in my university days and have no regrets. This is mostly an anglo-saxon, puritan, cultural issue- not unlike the Clinton affair vs. the Mitterand/Sarkozy/Hollande or Berlusconi affairs. It goes hand in hand with a presumption that there’s something inherently ‘bad/evil’ about sex.

    • closetprofessor

      As confident as “Noel” seems in his videos, I doubt he will have many regrets later on either. I think the biggest problem here is that the school is trying to punish him for something that happened outside of the school and outside of their jurisdiction because they see something wrong with sex. Sex is a beautiful thing one should not be punished for it.

  • shirtlessiniceland

    This is a brilliantly written and, in its own way, quite edgy piece of essay writing, my friend. Wow. You never fail to impress me. The rule in private (independent) schools is that students are only in trouble, so to speak, when what they do outside of school impacts the reputation of the school. I don’t ever remember encountering a case of this sort, but it would be fascinating to write to … oh, what’s that big school of you Southerners in Chattanooga? … and ask them what they’d do? Again … brilliant.

    • closetprofessor

      Thank you. I don’t have a problem with pornography, and whereas a private school might be able to take action against a student, I don’t see how a public institution can in this instance. I do find it rather unseemly that a porn site would recruit a high school student no matter his age, but Sean Cody has been known for quite some time for its unscrupulous practices.

      By the way, I’m not sure of what school you are thinking of in Chattanooga. The only one I can think of is the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, but I don’t think that’s it. Maybe you’re thinking of that most august institution of The University of the South in Swanee? Hmm, you have me stumped.

      • shirtlessiniceland

        I remembered … a friend of mine taught math there for a while: The McCallie School. It’s an all-boys boarding school.

      • closetprofessor

        I’m sure the McCallie School would have simply and quietly asked the student to leave and would have never acknowledged that he’d ever attended. That is what most of the exclusive private schools in the South would do. It’s the very southern way of dealing with perceived problems: act like it never happened.

      • shirtlessiniceland

        Well, in truth, it saves the family embarrassment and allows the young person to continue on to college without a problem. Often, we did the same thing … in a brasher New York fashion, with much behind the doors upbraiding and lashing and gnashing and threatening. Such an interesting topic.

      • closetprofessor

        I agree with you, there are certain advantages that private schools have over public schools, and a private school might have done things in a quieter fashion that would have ultimately been more beneficial. However, in this public school system, the school is overstepping their bounds. When my students (and remember I teach at a private academy) complain about their “rights” I remind them that they don’t exist. When their tuition is paid and the admission agreement is signed, they lose those rights they might otherwise have at a public school. It is also one of the reasons why private institutions often provide a better education because we have more control over our students, but it is all a trade off and public institutions do not have the same control we do, nor should they.

      • shirtlessiniceland

        I couldn’t agree with you more. Ultimately, the private system works to the student’s advantage … rather than expel a student (by the way, schools like Trinity never use that word), I would work the system to get him/her enrolled in one of the Quaker Schools or Catholic single sex institutions. Things were most often done with a discrete respect for family AND institution.

      • closetprofessor

        By the way, one of the main reasons I wrote this is my anger at schools having to take an active parenting role because parents refuse to do so anymore. There are many things that parents should be teacher their children at home that goes neglected because parents aren’t taking a more active role in their children’s lives.

        Also, I did read that the Sean Cody model referenced in this post did this with his mother’s knowledge. They were in desperate need for money, and the kid really wanted to help and supposedly they knew the consequences. How much of that is true, is subject to debate.

      • shirtlessiniceland

        The abandonment of parenting responsibilities killed me when I was Upper School Principal … mothers coming in to ask ME whether they should have a curfew for their child. Gosh. What do you think, Girlfriend. I had a VERY famous, as in everyone in this country knows the name (and then some), have to be called into my office … because they had purchased a “party apartment” in their building for their two high-school aged boys. Well, the photos circulating around would curl your hair. It was shocking. The parents’ first reaction: “Well, it’s our right.” My trained response, “Yes, it is, you’re right. However, you need to make a choice. You can exercise your choice to keep that apartment and we will ask the boys to leave the school … Or you can choose to give up the apartment, and the boys can stay.” Good gravy.

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