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Whistleblowing Student Suspended by Principal, Exonerated by Superintendent

September 27, 2016

WXYZ news in Detroit reported on the story of John Glenn HS senior Hazel Juco, a whistleblowing teenage student in Michigan, who took a picture of the discolored water coming from the spigot in the girls bathroom at her high school and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Why did she do this?

“I always hope that someone will see it and want to help us,” said Juco. “Because our school obviously doesn’t have money.”

What happened next was a sequence of events that serve an example of the kind of country we live in now… AND… the kind of country we would like to live in going forward.

First, her Principal called her to the office and suspended her for the “inappropriate use of electronics in the restroom”, based on the presumption that taking any pictures in the girls room is “inappropriate”.

What happened next was heartwarming and hopeful. Her classmates, upon hearing that she was suspended for an “inappropriate picture” reposted and retweeted all of the selfies THEY had taken in the bathroom and posted and tweeted an entirely new set of bathroom selfies. Someone contacted WXYZ news in an effort to get some kind of justice and when the news station contacted the Superintendent, Dr. Michele Harmala, the suspension was reversed and Ms. Juco was allowed to return to school and had the suspension removed from her record. And here’s the kicker: Dr. Harmala had an app in place on the school district’s web page that enabled individuals like Ms. Juco to make a report of a maintenance problem directly to the maintenance department so that a problem like the discolored drinking water could be addressed ASAP.

Like the politicians and business leaders in our country today who do not want to see the flaws of their organizations exposed, the Principal took immediate and drastic action against a subordinate to “send a message” to everyone else in the organization that displaying the flaws of that organization is strictly forbidden.

But the blowback to her wrongheaded decision, fueled by the use of social media, ended up with her ultimate exoneration. This would be akin to having the newly elected President exonerating Edward Snowden or having his exile somehow reversed by the Supreme Court…. or akin to having any number of corporate whistleblowers who were dismissed from their jobs being restored to full employment. This kind of fair-minded action by higher-ups would also make it more likely for those living in dangerous areas to “say something” when they “see something”… an activity that is now challenged by the “snitches end up in ditches” mentality that too often pervades schools and communities.

A democracy depends on citizens having a voice. When the voice of a whistleblower is silenced by authority we are reinforcing totalitarianism. When it is heard and considered thoughtfully we are able to make continuous improvements. We should all have an app to maintain our voices as citizens.

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