It seems that in the past few months, central Indiana has been blessed with more than its share of school leaders who have made the conscious if ill-advised decision to drink to excess and drive erratically enough to pique the attention of local law enforcement; thereby endangering themselves, motioned and stationary property and the unsuspecting motoring public. While it is important to severely scold these public employees for more than just a slight miscue of judgment, it is also appropriate to devise some sort of employment consequence beyond that of the local traffic court. These persons, after all, have day jobs than outweigh the mere manufacture of widgets and wealth. They are charged with the guidance of the moral and practical education of our children.
But what is a correct and just punishment? If we were discussing the foibles of a well-known president of some bank, the affair would be a story on page three and be handled internally by upper management. It is likely that little would be done beyond court costs and fines as long as the aforementioned faux pas did not directly affect job performance or the bottom line and was not repeated. Generally, a single DUI among an otherwise clean business resume would do little to tarnish the reputation of the institution or the perpetrator.
Then we come to school management personnel. More is certainly called for and expected in the case of school employees since individual and school reputations certainly are damaged. But when you think about the two extremes of punishment for such a one-time if certainly not minor crime, neither is satisfying. Being fired from the job of principal for driving drunk carries with it a kiss-of-death quality. Having to divulge a DUI during a school interview process after being dismissed from another position for that reason can put a damper on subsequent moral leadership and judgment discussions. Besides, throwing away talented people for a mistake, albeit a serious one, is neither charitably forgiving nor is it good business. But the transgression not being addressed or the transgressor being suspended a week or two without pay seem to lack a sense of balance and immediacy. This leader has, at least temporarily, lost the moral high ground or the moral authority to effectively lead other professionals and the impressionable young minds in his or her care. To further augment a light sentence with the inevitable teachable moment meetings and convocations with various stakeholder groups smacks of simple patronization. The Mickey Mantle substance abuse refrain of "Don't be like me", is getting to be cliché.
To fully address the importance of the crime, the punishment for school leaders needs to be less severe than the death penalty but more painful than a token ruler rap on the knuckles. While getting into the pocket of the transgressor to some degree is reasonable, it is more critical that the person be removed from the duties of leadership in his or her present assignment permanently or for a reasonable if not substantial period of time; at least until the act and consequences can be put into proper perspective in the mind of the public, the children, and subordinate professionals.