Is a machete a farm tool or an illegal weapon? It’s a contentious issue between the family of Rogers High School student Logan Coufal and Rogers ISD Superintendent Bob Callaghan. An initial 45-day Disciplinary Alternative Education Placement (DAEP) assessed for possession of an illegal weapon – the machete – resulted from a drug dog hit on Coufal’s truck, a vehicle he and his father share. The substance “hit” on was a bottle of Zycam, an over-the-counter cold remedy reportedly two years past its expiration date. Though the 16-year-old’s punishment has been reduced to 20 days, Coufal’s family, friends and supporters term this action an injustice. At the best it appears a case of bureaucratic density. At the worst, school authority abuse. Meanwhile, as two-thirds of Texas school districts are involved with lawsuits questioning the adequacy and equity of public school financing, this case gives good cause for taxpayers to question the efficiency with which school district funds are being used.
Coufal’s expulsion occurred Nov. 19 after a drug dog “hit” on his truck in the school parking lot. Upon initially finding the cold medicine, further searching located the sheathed machete under the truck’s back seat. Per a Temple Daily Telegram article, the tool was placed in the truck three weeks prior for use in brush clearing. Coufal’s mother, Lisa, is quoted saying Logan wasn’t even aware it was there.
Lisa Coufal further describes her son as a “farm kid” involved in school agricultural classes and prize-winning livestock showing. She says he’s “up at 6 a.m. to feed animals and in the barn from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., 365 days a year.” The Telegram quotes her saying “I’m bewildered, shocked, mad. … I’m losing my faith in common sense. If we don’t stand up to this, who will?”
Citing student privacy restrictions, Rogers ISD Superintendent Bob Callaghan is not commenting on the situation. The Rogers ISD Student Code of Conduct says that per the Texas Penal Code, a student must be expelled for offenses which include “an illegal knife, such as a knife with a blade over 5½ inches; hand instrument, designed to cut or stab another by being thrown; dagger, including but not limited to a dirk, stiletto, and poniard; bowie knife; sword; or spear.” The code additionally states that when ordering out-of-school suspensions including if a student is to be placed in DAEP “regardless of whether the action is mandatory or discretionary,” the district shall take into consideration self-defense, intent or lack of intent at the time the student engaged in the conduct and the student’s disciplinary history.
Logan Coufal is known as a conscientious, hard-working and respectful young man. And his case is seen as problematic to many. Coufal attorney Clyde Chandler told the Telegram he believes the search was illegal if based on expired cold medicine. Terming Coufal’s treatment “absurd,” he told the Telegram the search should have ended with the cold medicine and that “the superintendent completely abused his power of discretion.”
People involved with farming activities understand the casual and routine nature with which instruments like machetes, hoes, shovels and chains are used. Yet all of these can be considered weapons. Rogers ISD is located in an agricultural community. With a school district of less than 900, many of its students are “farm kids” – kids from an early age learning practical, marketable skills requiring hard work and discipline. These skills offer great advantage ahead of many in today’s schools struggling with the prospect of future adult productivity and self-sufficiency. With so many challenges facing today’s youth, one could think these attributes and skills would be respected and their attainment supported, but evidently not in Rogers ISD.
Logan Coufal’s parents have completed paperwork for appeals of his suspension. A hearing is scheduled Monday afternoon. While many are hoping this proceeding will bring a positive outcome, questions still linger over how and why this incident occurred.
Meanwhile, are taxpayers funding erroneous drug searches paving the way for additional civil rights violations? The time of a superintendent, principal, other administrators and faculty (not to mention school district lawyers) can quickly add up in reacting to such actions – is this a truly good use of public dollars? And as school district expenditures become more closely scrutinized, do practices for sending students to DAEP facilities include sound criteria and reasoning unlike the highly questionable sense created by this incident?
The public school finance issue continues as a hot topic with increased calls for reform including school choice. With that, taxpayers should keep in mind how the Texas Constitution calls for “support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” The Coufal case in its entirety is one of many examples suggesting efficiency in intellectual, fiscal and educational terms is not occurring.
With that, let’s hope an injection of sensibility is ahead for Logan Coufal and for Texas school children, parents and taxpayers as the fight over school funding and accountability rages on.