This week a male Florida high school student was sent to the principal’s office and then removed from school for wearing high-heeled shoes to class. You can see the news coverage of this incident interviewing the site principal Bob Heilmann here.
I just felt all kinds of ick when I watched this principal with his amused smirk talk about how his administration handled this young man and another young man who later protested his removal.
Here are the stand out leadership failure quotes from the interview…
Leadership Failure Quote #1 from Riverview High School Principal Bob Heilmann:
“As a principal of a high school, I have to take the paternal side and make sure he’s going to be okay.” According to Principal Heilmann the only safe place for gender expressions that do not conform to his unstated standards is at home. Rather than focusing on making the school safe, the principal wants us to accept that gender bullying and brutality are inevitable at Riverview High School. Apparently something as radical as ‘teaching’ students about gender expressions and enforcing a harassment policy are out of the question in Bob’s mind.
Leadership Failure Quote #2 from Riverview High School Principal Bob Heilmann:
“Anytime anyone goes out from, quote, ‘the norm’ or anytime anyone wants to make a statement, you have to be willing to take what comes with it.” Did Principal Heilmann just suggest marginalized students – those out of ‘the norm’ – are asking for harassment, bullying, and physical violence? I believe he did. I wonder what kinds of non-normative statements count as asking to be harassed or attacked at school in Bob’s book? Is it normal and therefore safe to have a visible disability at Riverview? What about taking part in non-traditional courses or activities? For example, do you have to be willing to take what comes with it if you are the only girl in a particular class or club?
Leadership Failure Quote #3 from Riverview High School Principal Bob Heilmann:
“Well one boy wore a dress on Monday. And uh..after we chatted he decided he did not to want do that. (pause) I was concerned about his safety.” Here at the final moment of the interview Mr. Heilmann appears pleased as punch that he terrorized another student in the name of safety. Can’t you see how things are getting safer and safer all the time around Bob. Talk about self-fulfilling wishes.
Because obviously it’s the shoes making schools unsafe… here I thought it was t-shirts like the one Dawn Henderson wore, or the one Cole Goforth wore. Really if we could just get these out of the norm kids to stay home no one would have to get hurt.
I’ve written about this type of educational leadership failure in the past. Those all too common moments when administrators take to the air to blame victims, normalize violence in their schools, and pose as the moral authority all in one fell swoop.
I’ve also written about educators who have done the exact opposite in cases like the San Francisco Town School’s field trip ado. In that news story the school’s administration was publicly challenged for taking students to San Francisco’s Castro District to learn about gay history. In response Town School administrator Brewster Ely sent a wonderful letter to all parents that closed with the following statement:
It is my hope that these events ultimately engender an even greater appreciation for diversity and a respect for all people.
I close with a statement from our Town School philosophy: Town values being a diverse community that nurtures integrity, sensitivity and respect in its boys, and prepares them to become productive and contributing members of an ever-changing world.
So yes, there clearly is another way to educate children and to create a ‘safe’ school, Mr. Heilmann. But you won’t find it until you start looking.