Thursday, March 13, 2008

Skittlegate has a sweet ending

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — Skittlegate flared up like a media supernova, and now, two days later, it’s over.
On Wednesday, public school officials agreed to expunge a one-day suspension for Michael Sheridan, an eighth-grader who was punished for buying a $1 bag of candy, against district policy, in Sheridan Communications and Technology Magnet School. The Skittles seller also had his record cleared.
After meeting with Michael’s parents, Sheridan Principal Eleanor Turner agreed to erase suspension records and allow Michael to resume his post as Student Council vice president. Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo also attended the session.
“In looking back over this incident, I warned the students repeatedly, but I should have reinforced it in writing to parents, that the district does not allow buying and selling candy at school,” Turner said in a statement released by the district. “My intention throughout was — and still is — to maintain a safe and orderly building. I am sorry that this has happened. My hope is that we can get back to the normal school routine, especially since we are in the middle of taking the Connecticut Mastery Test.”
Turner added, “When students are allowed to break school rules like this, it does lead to problems. Letting students carry large sums of money around, letting them buy and sell and eat candy in classrooms, disrupting the instructional day, and the risks it poses to students with allergies, are truly hazards.”
The Sheridan eighth-grader has been caught in a media maelstrom since his mother, Shelli Sheridan, protested his three-day suspension for purchasing the candy in a school hallway.
While the suspension was originally reduced to one day, Michael also was stripped of his class vice presidency and barred from attending a school honors dinner.
“Why did we go to that extreme?” asked Shelli Sheridan, prior to meeting with Mayo and Turner.
Michael’s story spread to over 100 newspapers nationally after appearing in the New Haven Register Wednesday. Shelli Sheridan said she returned from work Wednesday to find 18 phone messages. There also were two notes in her door and reporters at her home, she said. Fox News called, offering a ride to their New York City studios for an interview, she said.
Michael said local news crews were kicked out of his school.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t get over it,” Shelli Sheridan said.
On Wednesday, Mayo announced he was reviewing the discipline. He made a point of voicing his support for Turner, and the spirit in which she acted, claiming she was “maintaining a safe, orderly environment in which students are not distracted.”
“The question is, was the punishment too harsh? That’s something we need to evaluate. I am hoping we can resolve this quickly,” Mayo said in a prepared statement.
Shelli Sheridan left the meeting satisfied, although still miffed that her son missed the honors dinner. And she remained mystified that this was all over a bag of Skittles.
“What ever happened to writing an essay?” she said of a possible punishment.
Even Wednesday, school officials at first said Michael had to earn back his position as Student Council vice president, Shelli Sheridan said.
“I kept having to bring them back. ... ‘It’s candy,’” she said.
New Haven Public Schools banned candy sales and fundraisers in 2003, part of the districtwide school wellness policy. While the policy says that “no candy or junk food fundraisers will be allowed on school grounds” and only “healthy snacks will be sold in vending machines selling food products,” it does not address snacks shared between students at school when no money changes hands.
Mayo maintained the incident “did not happen in isolation,” that Sheridan school had an “ongoing issue” with candy sales, and that the school principal had warned students they could face discipline for selling or buying candy.

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