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Don’t judge student by appearance

by Sheila Gardner

Before you read any further, I am proud to disclose that I have known about Jazz Aldrich since the day he was born. He has worked at The Record-Courier since the beginning of the school year. I count his parents and his aunt (Joyce Hollister, who also works at the R-C) among my closest friends.

I first met Jazz when he was about six weeks old. My daughter Kate is a few months older than Jazz and there is nothing like babies to build a common bond between mothers.

Over the course of their earliest days, Jazz was a beneficiary of some of Kate’s outgrown clothes. I remember one outfit in particular. It was a tiny pink sweatsuit that we dyed red so nobody would mislabel Jazz because of his clothing.

How prescient of us in light of what happened to Jazz on Thursday.

Two days after 14 students and a teacher were gunned down at a high school in Littleton, Colo., Jazz made the choice (or mistake) of wearing a dog collar to Douglas High School as well as a sweater held together with safety pins and a belt buckle emblazoned with a gun emblem.

Jazz, whom I might point out is the DHS senior class president and an honor student, was detained and questioned by Douglas County sheriff’s investigators because of what he was wearing at school. Authorities said they were responding to staff and students’ concerns in light of the shootings.

Jazz’s father was summoned, and his backpack confiscated and eventually returned. There were no additional consequences, other than the fact that he missed part of his advanced placement government class while he was being questioned.

All I know of the incident is what Jazz told me bout his particular experience. I don’t know who the other kids are, or who questioned Jazz about his attitude and his attire.

I can only speak for Jazz, and I’m here to tell you, you’ve got the wrong kid.

Jazz wears clothes like this every day. His attire, to my 51-year-old eyes, is unusual and I never know what his hair is going to look like. I use Jazz to monitor what I like to call my “geezer gauge.” Over the past few months, he has taught me that hair is not a weapon. If he wants to come with polka dots, bumble bee stripes, or spikes (all of which he has), I don’t care as long as he does his job, which he does.

Our conversations about his hairstyles run something like this:

Me: “Nice hair, Jazz.”

Jazz: “Thanks.”

Since the shootings in Littleton, school officials, parents and students are understandably concerned. We are loath to admit that what happened there can happen anywhere, including Douglas County.

Everything I’ve read and heard about Littleton, Jonesboro, Springfield and West Paducah, makes a big point out of the fact that the children who committed these unspeakable acts were lonely, cutoff, disaffected outsiders.

Now, here comes Jazz (admittedly wearing his dog collar and safety pins) – senior class president, honor student, member of the school’s Academic Team and Douglas County School District student since age 5.

What concerns me is that after all his positive achievements, the DHS administration apparently knows so little about Jazz, judging him on what he wears instead of who he is.

What can a kid do to get noticed by the administration? Wear a dog collar to school?

Sheila Gardner is editor of The Record-Courier.