Add Casey Smitherman of Elwood, Indiana, to the long list of school superintendents who have been caught committing fraud.
While other dirty supers were stealing money from the children of their districts in order to enrich themselves or their friends and family, Smitherman seems to have gotten it backwards. She put her job and her professional future at risk in order to trick the Anthem Blue Cross insurance corporation into helping an impoverished child with the symptoms of strep throat.
Can she come be the superintendent of my school district? It would be a novel undertaking for us to have a super who cared that much about children.
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I teach eighth-graders math during the day. At night, I wash my poorest students’ clothes.
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My daughter’s teacher is on strike. As a mom, I stand on the picket line with her.
Smitherman said that she used poor judgement in using her son’s medical insurance card for the uninsured 15-year-old student and no one disagrees with her on that account. She has now been compelled to walk away from her nearly $120,000 a year job over a medical bill of just $233.
Helping kids isn’t in the job description
What she should have done, of course, was mind her own business. Leave it to the child’s guardians and, if they were unable or unwilling to get him medical treatment, so be it.
That is what she was supposed to do. Run the school district — make sure everyone gets paid on time, that there is enough toilet paper and paper towels in the buildings, that the attendance is submitted promptly, that every other institutional necessity gets satisfied, and then go home and forget about the general welfare of those kids. Maybe convene a blue ribbon panel to study why students are missing school or why they are getting sick and not getting better and falling asleep from exhaustion at their desks. But don’t get personally involved. Don’t go buying an impoverished kid clothes or taking him to see a doctor.
Caring about what happens to students outside of school isn’t in Smitherman’s job description.
And, even if she suffered from the educator’s character flaw of caring too much about other people’s children, she should have just paid the kid’s medical and pharmacy bill out of her own pocket. That’s the way it works.
If a student in your classroom or in your building faints from hunger because she or he is only eating whatever the school is serving, look the other way or else give the kid a fast food gift card. You think anyone else is going to do it? That kid is invisible to the rest of the world, but you see the suffering so it’s on you. It doesn’t say that in the contract but it doesn’t have to.
School systems run by rules, not sense
But, seriously, can Smitherman come work for my school district? I wouldn’t mind working for a superintendent who was sympathetic to the ways some of us find ourselves breaking the rules on behalf of our students.
Like when you’re driving home late at night after a basketball game and there’s one of the players, a 14-year-old kid, sitting at a bus stop on a dangerous street. The rules say not to ever have a student in your car without written permission from the parents, but you can’t keep driving and leave him there. So you park and sit with him, waiting for the bus but fearing for your own safety.
Or you’re on a field trip and one of your students gets caught shoplifting and you know that if this kid gets charged her uncle, whom she lives with, will pull her out of school and send her to the produce fields north of the city to do stoop labor with her mother. So you plead with the shop keeper and when that doesn’t work you offer him $20. Or you commit fraud against an insurance company or, in my case, against the very school district that employed me.
That is what I did in my first year as a teacher. Toward the end of the school year, my principal asked me to help her spend some money, explaining that the school would be docked next year if we left any funds unspent. This included about $2,000 in “library funds,” though our school had no library and no place to put library books.
This was back in the early 1990s and our school did not have a single computer. Among the items eligible to be purchased was computer software but not, I noticed, computers. I called an official to protest this (what does one do with software without a computer?) but got nowhere so I went to a local computer store and asked the proprietor to write up a purchase for software and instead give our school computers.
Most of our students lived below the poverty line and had never used a computer before and the opportunity was transformative for them.
I was young and idealistic and I remember hoping the fraud did get exposed so that I could go before the school board or whoever might dare to discipline me and tell them that they were the criminals. That the system was a fraud and that wasted funds were stolen money. I was going to let them have it and they would listen because I cared about students and they didn’t.
What an idiot I was — and a lucky idiot for never getting caught.
School systems — and, for that matter, health care systems — don’t care how stupid or heartless or immoral they are. All they knows how to do is grind on and grind up people like Casey Smitherman.
Larry Strauss has taught high school English in South Los Angeles since 1992. He is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently “Students First and Other Lies.” The audiobook of his novel, “Now’s the Time” (narrated by Kim Fields) is due out next month.