on Whistleblowers

whis·tle·blow·er: One who reveals wrongdoing within an organization to the public or to those in positions of authority (definition from www.thefreedictionary.com)

Human beings are not perfect. And if you have been watching the news lately, it appears that those in public office are even less so. Politics is the 2nd oldest profession, and according to former President Reagan, sometimes it appears to be more like the first. It is disappointing to watch those who swore an oath to take on the mantle of a servant to instead engage in the actions of a master, all to protect themselves and their power over others. It is hard to be the little guy when standing up against those with power over you and the ones you love, which is one reason why we have state and federal whistleblower laws. They are meant to protect us from the retaliation of those in power when their mistakes are exposed. I like to think of whistleblower legislation as a kind of “bully protection law”.

We here in Iowa also have whistleblower laws, which are set up to protect employees from retaliation when they report wrongdoing by their employer or the government. What is interesting however, is that these laws do not have provisions to protect students who report wrongdoing by their schools. Currently, there is nothing out there to protect children, or even parents, from retaliation from a school administration, school staff or even fellow students, if they report wrongdoing in their school district. I find this odd. Why would we give special protections to school government employees that we would not give to the taxpayers themselves? Does this not only encourage, but sanction, the bullying of those whom the district is not only tasked, but also took an oath, to serve?  Is it any wonder that parents feel that they cannot stand up for what is right in school districts, out of fear that it will be taken out on their children? Sure, they could always threaten a lawsuit. But not all parents have those kind or resources, and more than likely they will be cowed into silence for the sake of their child or their pocketbook.

We learned this truth last week, when an upstanding young man, a student and an Eagle scout, decided to stand up for what was right. He received an email from another student that contained personal private information that no teenager should be granted permission to access. He was punished along with the boy who sent it, even though he never saw it. When he realized later that the information was actually sitting in an old email account that only his Dad had access to, he advised him of the breach, and then his father went to a school board member out of concern regarding the level of access to private information that our IT Director was granting students. Andy then went to the school board President, requesting action be taken to secure the info and sanction the employee. Instead, it was the student whistleblower who got punished again, with his laptop being taken for 30 days. Yep, that’s right; a young boy went to his father to blow the whistle, his father went to a school board member, who then took this serious concern to school board President, and then the student, not the IT Director, was punished for this action.

What happened to this student was nothing more than simple retaliation. As I sat in that school board meeting, I witnessed the character and integrity of this fine young man, as well as that of his father (who is a respected elder in one of our local churches), absolutely besmirched by those who knew better. They seemed to be more fixated on finding which school policy he supposedly violated than about the fact that our school IT Director had given children access to private information. As someone else who also works in a secured IT environment, I know that if I ever need help to complete a task, I enlist other adults of the same security clearance or I engage management and advise them of my needs. I certainly do not enlist children to do my job, let alone grant them access to secure private company information, no matter how skilled they are. If our salaried school IT Director does not have enough time to complete his required duties such that he needs to enlist the help of our kids, then perhaps the district should not be allowing (or paying) him to take time out of his day to drive one of our school buses. Or even better, maybe we should just seek someone else for this position who has a greater and more efficient IT skill set than that of our students.

Whistleblowing laws exist because those in power often choose to circle the wagons instead of doing what is right. Last week we witnessed how our school administration attempted to punish a student whistleblower. It is time we ask our legislators to expand current whistleblower laws to now also include students. If we want to truly teach our children how to stand with integrity, then the laws need to not only protect them, but also their families, from being retaliated against when they actually choose to do so in our school districts.

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” ~ Elvis Presley

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