FREE FALLING

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
Every year, one of the first tasks of teachers and administrators at schools is to lay down the law, inform students of the rules they will need to follow for the nine or so months to come.

Some young people are not particularly interested in conforming. Others are more complacent and submissive when it comes to the regulations.

Educators who are veterans are often asked if kids have changed over the years. After 15 years in the classroom, I can honestly answer that I don’t know. But, it seems to me society is certainly sending mixed messages to our children.

Allow me to offer a few examples.

We have a sign at the gate of our Hillsboro sports complex that clearly reads no alcoholic beverages are allowed on the premises. Yet, I have seen ballplayers and spectators carrying open containers of beer, not only in the far reaches of the parking lots, but to the dugout areas. There is no attempt to hide the consumption.

If it’s a bad rule, change it. If it remains a rule, enforce it.

At school, we have a dress code that is quite clear. Students are not to wear clothing that displays the midriff.

As the parent of a middle-school girl, I can attest to the fact that it is difficult to find clothes that meet the code. But, it is not impossible. If my daughter’s midriff is showing, I would fully expect her to end up in the office.

As a teacher in the high school, I plan to continue to send violators of the dress code to the office. I suppose that will make me look like I’m hung up on rules enforcement.

Here again, however, I don’t understand why we would put a rule in the handbook if we are not planning to enforce it. What kind of a message are we sending?

It’s not just about school. Some rules for motor vehicles people violate because the fine citizens of the great state of Kansas don’t even know the statutes exist. That has to be confusing for those who want to follow the rules.

For example, did you know that, according to information provided by www.kscoplaw.com, it is illegal to leave a car unattended with the engine running?

State law reads that you not only must stop the engine, you must remove the keys and set the parking brake. The only exception is use of a remote starting device, but that’s only legal if the keys are not in the ignition.

On the other hand, everyone should know it is against the law to idle a car while filling gas in the tank. The signs are posted all around the pumps. Yet, we see it all the time. Who’s responsible for enforcing that rule?

It is against Kansas law to allow a vehicle to coast on the downward side of a hill by placing the transmission in neutral. I used to always ask my dad to do that. I thought it was cool. In fact, in the days before power everything, he would sometimes even turn off the car’s motor while letting it glide down the hill.

Here are a couple of laws that make sense, at least at first glance. Driving over a hose that has been rolled out by the fire department is illegal, and anyone under 14 is not allowed to ride in the back of a pickup truck or any other part of a vehicle not specifically designed to carry passengers unless that youth is required to do so by an employer or in a parade.

Oddly, the rule only applies to cities and travel on state highways. I always thought it was illegal for anyone to ride in the back of a pickup truck at any time.

Bicyclists are not immune from traffic rules, but some are unknown by most riders or just ignored.

For example, how many people know that it is illegal to ride more than two abreast on streets and roadways?

Heck, some riders don’t even know that they are to ride on the right side of the road along with traffic.

At night, bikes are required to have a white light on the front visible from a minimum distance of 500 feet. That’s not just a city rule.

Walkers and joggers are required by law to stay on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. Makes sense. But it’s likely most people don’t know it is illegal to walk on the side of the road where a usable sidewalk is provided.

That’s a tough call in some Hillsboro neighborhoods.

OK, so what does all this have to do with rules and students?

My philosophy has always been that the simpler and clearer rules and regulations can be made, the better.

Furthermore, the best way to make rules understood is to explain them, then to enforce them fairly and consistently.

Those who advocate passing a rule or law, then ignore or selectively enforce, are only creating an atmosphere in which no one can be happy, comfortable or safe.

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