By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Holding a fraternity paddle, Jackson asked, "How many pops do you deserve?"
"None," said Erik. "I didn't do anything."
"Then this is for nothing," said Jackson, and swung the paddle. When Eric writhed to escape, Jackson pushed him to the ground, where he pinned him. Teacher Kareeam Brown held the boy while Jackson paddled him.
Erik returned to his desk and put his head down to cry. Jackson then summoned him back into the hall and paddled him again, this time for not doing his work. In all, he struck Erik somewhere between two and eight times.
Half an hour later, Erik drew a picture of himself shooting Boom Boom in the head. In the drawing, a smiley face adorned Erik's shirt, and a speech balloon emanated from his mouth: "NO MORE MR. PADDLE."
The drawing was the last straw. Boom Boom returned to the class, and asked the other students, "Do you think what Erik did was evil?" The students voted unanimously to remove him from the school.
Erik's dad came to pick him up. At home, Erik discovered that his butt was woefully bruised -- bruised so badly that his parents made the photos that would be all over television a few months later. To establish the date, his dad held up that day's issue of the Village News -- the same paper that had once portrayed Erik as a Classical School success story.
The next day, Kim Vidor reported Erik's paddling to Children's Protective Services, which dispatched an investigator.
Boom Boom said that Erik couldn't be believed, calling the boy "very depressed, suicidal and a pathological liar" and adding that in the past year and a half, the school had disciplined him 42 times. Erik, Jackson said, was "evil": He hurt other children "to be mean," and he'd attacked Aaron "with the intent to murder."
Boom Boom further told the investigator that Erik had confided that his father beat him and his sister, and that his dad had broken the girl's arm and was responsible for a gash on Erik's knee. If that was true, Jackson said, Erik probably deserved it.
Jackson also told the investigator that Erik's dad, William Vidor, was intent on destroying the Classical School. CPS, Jackson said, should consider the source of its information.
CPS dutifully investigated the Vidors, even removing their six-year-old daughter from her elementary school class to ask about her broken arm. No, she told the investigator, she'd managed to fall off the family Suburban without her father's help. And no, her father didn't beat Erik or stab him in the leg.
At the school, Erik's teacher, Kenneth Kossie, told the investigator that he'd never heard that Erik was physically abused at home. In fact, Erik had told him that his parents didn't hit, that he was only grounded, and never grounded for very long. CPS concluded that the Vidors hadn't abused Erik.
But it concluded that the Classical School had. Even so, CPS could do little about the matter. Most often, the agency investigates parents or guardians, not schools. If a parent is found to have committed abuse, in one time out of ten CPS will recommend removing the child from that home; nine times out of ten, it will require counseling for the parents and will continue to monitor the child. Had Erik's parents abused him, the next step would have been clear.
But the Classical School was a school -- and an unusual one at that. With most private schools, CPS would have filed its report with the accrediting organization that monitors the school, and assumed that the accrediting group would keep an eye on the matter. But Texas law doesn't require a school to be accredited, and the Classical School wasn't. No one but the Jacksons oversaw it. For CPS, there was no official next step. Though the agency found that Erik had been abused, there was no reason to think that his spanking would be the school's last.
After Erik's paddling, two more students left the school: Charlie Hanna, 15, and Stephen David, 14. Charlie had his own tale of heavy-handed discipline. He said that in December, his teacher, Kareeam Brown, threw him against a wall for eavesdropping. Later, when Brown left the room, Charlie sneaked out of the school, escaping via a fire escape. Brown found him standing at a nearby bus stop on Richmond and angrily threw Charlie's books into the busy street. To retrieve them, Charlie darted in and out of traffic.
Stephen David hadn't been the subject of such treatment, but he'd seen Erik and other children disciplined harshly. Charlie Hanna's story convinced Stephen's mother to remove him from the school.
Erik, Stephen and Charlie are all white; Boom Boom, like almost all his remaining students, is black. Even so, none of the parties claimed that racism -- either black or white -- lies at the root of the problem. A racist white parent wouldn't have placed a child in the Classical School; and by all accounts, black kids were punished as severely as white ones.
The racial divide, though, reflects parents' attitudes toward spanking: In general, black parents are more likely to approve its use. Of the 13 schools in the Houston Independent School District that allow corporal punishment, 11 are primarily black.