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Perry Smith: paper-tossing and pot-stirring

Posted: April 11, 2009 1:01 a.m.
Updated: April 11, 2009 4:30 a.m.
Last month Amanda Larrson-Dally, a 17-year-old Canyon High School student, and her parents filed a report at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station after teacher Mike Motherspaw crumpled up her request to interview one of his students and tossed it — allegedly at Larrson-Dally — in front of his class.

I guess that one got out of hand pretty quickly, didn’t it?

The Signal’s story labeled the incident a “classroom prank gone awry” and laid out how an otherwise harmless series of events escalated: A student was unhappy with what she felt was an inappropriate interaction with a teacher and then further frustrated by the response from the school’s administration, which caused her to take the matter to the Sheriff’s Department.

The response The Signal received for printing the tale could pretty accurately be described as backlash, most writers attacking us for publishing such a worthless story while simultaneously offering their own interpretations of the events.

A newspaper is a bit like a community mirror. It’s a personal experience, and each reader gets his or her own look from reading a story.

Sometimes things in the mirror don’t always show as I’d like them to, but I’m not going to go throw away my mirror.

The newspaper was assailed for the story, accused of indicting Motherspaw, but I couldn’t possibly read it and charge the teacher with anything but littering, which he willingly admits to in the follow-up story. Shame on you, Mr. Motherspaw.

All I could really infer from the story was this: Motherspaw grossly miscalculated how a student would react to a playful albeit juvenile gesture; rather than discuss the issue with Motherspaw, or someone at the school with the authority to address the issue, Larrson-Dally walked away upset and took the issue to her parents; then Larrson-Dally’s father, Nick Dally, came to Principal Bob Messina with the unrealistic expectation of a resolution beyond an apology.

Dally’s direct quote was: “A simple ‘I am sorry’ is not going to do it. If my daughter was a son and played football, then a simple ‘I am sorry’ would be good enough.”

How can you read that quote and blame Motherspaw or Messina? I was ready to let the two start throwing paper wads at parents and kids alike by the time I had gotten that far — and at that moment, the craziness in the mirror was definitely closer than it appeared.

Sure, there may be a stir-the-pot element to running the story, but I’m interested in any story at a nearby high school when the Sheriff’s Department gets involved, even if it’s mundane — why is the department’s time being wasted with this?

I am glad Messina came to Motherspaw’s defense; it reflects well on his leadership.

I also hope Motherspaw is still the presumptive front-runner for his third “Goofiest Teacher of the Year” award — the field’s probably getting crowded, but teachers deserve any measure of praise we can afford them these days.

It’s not a particular thrill to know The Signal printed the most harmless alleged battery case in the history of crime beats, or to know I work in a community where sheriff’s deputies actually had to spend time with a straight face and explain the process of a filing such a charge for their complaint — or maybe it is, I haven’t decided yet — but I’ll keep reading until I figure it out.

Perry Smith is a copy editor at The Signal. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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