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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Fight over iPod hits sour note
A student is suspended and a Gulf High assistant principal is being investigated after the incident.
By THOMAS LAKE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 12, 2007
Kristen Munson plays with her dog Jojo during her suspension from Gulf High School after a confrontation over her iPod.
[David Degner | Times]
NEW PORT RICHEY - This story is about rules, rebellion and a new kind of contraband: the iPod, in this case a small green one, a pocket-sized jukebox that plays songs by such artists as Kanye West and Nickelback.
Two people fought over it Tuesday morning in a classroom at Gulf High School. It was not a fair fight. One combatant was a powerful man with policy on his side, the other a disobedient girl with a tendency toward illicit text-messaging.
Both of them lost.
By early afternoon, he was the subject of a district investigation.
And her school year was in jeopardy.
"Believe me, she's 100 percent wrong today," her father said. "But you don't put your hand on her."
* * *
It began before 8 a.m. Tuesday, after the bell rang, as 16-year-old Kristen Munson walked to world history class with the green iPod in her hand.
As Kristen knew from experience, school rules forbid students from playing iPods and other electronic devices anywhere on campus. Also aware of this rule: Thomas Brochu, an assistant principal.
He saw the iPod.
"You need to put the iPod away," he told her, according to Kristen. Most of the details presented here come from her memory, and though they have generally been confirmed through official sources, Brochu could not be reached for comment.
Kristen put it away and walked to the windowless classroom. Then she took it back out, laid it on her desk and queued up a slow jam called Just Chill:
I can't live
Witchu all up in my grill
I don't understand
I wish that you could just chill
Kristen is accustomed to breaking the rules. She plays baseball, not softball. She has punching contests with boys. She owns a pink T-shirt that reads, "I GO TO SCHOOL FOR THE BABES."
At least twice before at the same school, she got in trouble for iPod usage, including a suspension last year. According to Kristen and her father, that was a 10-day suspension but the principal reinstated her after just three days.
The Code of Student Conduct says students may face "disciplinary action and the temporary confiscation of the electronic devices," but schools have the discretion to decide how severe that punishment should be.
Now, on Tuesday morning, assistant principal Brochu stood before her.
Give me the iPod, he said.
No, she said. It's not mine.
This was true. She had borrowed it from a friend, and she intended to give it back.
Come with me, he said.
Brochu walked toward the exit with Kristen behind him. But as she passed a row of desks, Kristen handed the iPod to another friend.
Hold this for me, she said.
Brochu saw the iPod.
He went to grab it.
But Kristen grabbed it first.
* * *
Technology evolves, and so do students, and then, inevitably, so do the rules.
School districts around the country have banned iPods and cell phones and similar devices on the premise that they distract students from their studies.
"Instructional time is something we guard very jealously," Lizette Alexander, director of student services for Pasco County schools, said last year.
But consistent enforcement seems difficult, if not impossible. According to Kristen and her friend Sydney Smith, 15, many teachers at Gulf let students use iPods if they've finished their work. They also say that students frequently exchange text messages during class.
Some can type them by touch, never taking their eyes off the teacher.
* * *
Brochu tried to snatch the iPod. But Kristen wouldn't let go. She says he grabbed and twisted her wrist. They struggled.
Stop, he said, or it's going to break.
She held on.
He let go.
But he wrote her up: 10-day suspension, out of school, with no chance to make up the work.
She and her father, Roger Munson, say this will probably cause her to fail all her classes, thus ruining her school year.
Roger Munson went to the school. He demanded that a deputy sheriff arrest Brochu for grabbing his daughter's wrist. When the deputy refused, he threatened to make a citizen's arrest.
According to sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin, there was physical contact between the man and the girl - but no evidence of criminal intent.
Nevertheless, Roger Munson complained to superintendent Heather Fiorentino. Assistant superintendent Jim Davis said the district was investigating the incident.
Kristen went home. Her father grounded her for two weeks.
The deputy took the iPod and gave it back to Sydney.
He told her to keep it in her backpack.
Times staffers Jeffrey S. Solochek and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.