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Case Narrative

Every January, the local public middle school in Pottersville, Missouri prepares for Career Night. All 130 students in this year's seventh grade were encouraged to ask their parents to address the class on their careers and career preparation. Most parents were unable to make it, two had canceled, and several speaking spots were open. Teachers filled some of the slots. On the Thursday before Career Week, the teachers once again asked their students to invite their parents to speak.

That afternoon, Mrs. Blythe, the teacher organizing Career Night, was approached by one of the students, Jan Miller. Jan indicated to Mrs. Blythe that her mother had volunteered to speak at Career Week, but had not heard from the school. Mrs. Blythe asked Jan what her mother's profession was and her place of employment. Jan told the teacher that her mother worked at the local Star Casino Center as a table games supervisor. The teacher said that she would speak with the principal, Mr. Weber, about Mrs. Miller addressing the seventh graders about her career.

The next day, Friday, Mrs. Blythe told Jan that the principal did not think it appropriate that her mother speak to the class about her occupation since it involved gambling. A shaken Jan went home and in tears said, “Mom, I need to talk to you. The school won't let you speak at Career Week, because of your job. What do you do there, Mom?”

Mrs. Miller was not at all pleased that she was not allowed to speak to her daughter's class about her job and was determined to get to the bottom of this matter. Mrs. Miller was proud of her accomplishments and her new career had helped her become financially independent. Mrs. Miller and Jan had been living on their own for a long time. As a single mother, Mrs. Miller had decided to attend Dealers' School as a means of getting off welfare. She received no pay during her training, but the casino felt that Mrs. Miller would be a capable worker and paid the tuition. After the training, Mrs. Miller went to work for the casino. Eventually after several months dealing Black Jack, she was promoted to the position of supervisor. Because of her new position, Mrs. Miller's income doubled and she was able to get off welfare and support herself and Jan. Not only was their standard of living improved, but now they also had full health benefits and had recently purchased a home in the school's suburban, middle class neighborhood.

In reviewing the situation, Mrs. Miller was particularly aggravated that neither Mrs. Blythe nor Mr. Weber had discussed the situation with her before upsetting Jan by telling her that her mother could not participate in Career Night because her occupation was not appropriate. At this point, the school did not even know what her job responsibilities entailed! Mrs. Miller felt that her daughter, an honor student, and active in her church was particularly hurt, because a teacher she admired questioned her mother's way of making a living. Mrs. Miller would have been glad to preview her talk with the school to allay their concerns.

Mrs. Miller got on the phone and spoke to Jan's best friend's mother, Mrs. Daley. Mrs. Miller learned that Mrs. Daley's husband, an advertising executive in the city's largest agency representing a wide range of businesses, offered to speak and was accepted by Mrs. Blythe without question. She also learned that no other parent's occupation was screened with the principal before being accepted by Mrs. Blythe. Mrs. Miller contemplated how to best approach the school. She made an appointment to meet with the principal, Mr. Weber, on Monday and decided to take along her boyfriend.

At the Monday morning meeting in the principal's office, Mr. Weber advised Mrs. Miller and her boyfriend that she was turned down to speak at Career Week because he was concerned about promoting gambling, cigarettes, or alcohol with a middle school age group. As an example, he cited that the school does not allow students to wear tee shirts with alcohol-related messages on them. He went on to compare her business to other businesses that he did not want to promote, like Anheuser-Busch with beer and Philip Morris with cigarettes. Mrs. Miller's boyfriend asked if an advertising executive who represented Anheuser-Busch would be barred from speaking, Mr. Weber hesitated. He responded that if the parent spoke on the general responsibilities of marketing that would be appropriate.

Mrs. Miller then asked if there was a district policy of specific occupations suitable for Career Week and found out there was not one. She then asked Mr. Weber if he knew exactly what her job responsibilities at the casino were before turning her down. Mr. Weber brushed her off, obviously wanting to get the meeting over with and mumbled, “It doesn't matter, it's still gambling.” Mrs. Miller pushed ahead saying that this industry has offered her a better life. To explain her responsibilities, she indicated that her primary duties were to stand behind Black Jack and Craps dealers, watching them, answering questions or settling disputes between players and dealers. She also gets to know the regular customers, rating the players who may be rewarded with comps, such as free dinners.

Mr. Weber responded that his decision should not be taken personally, and was based on his belief that it wasn't appropriate for industries promoting gaming, tobacco, or alcohol to be part of seventh graders' Career Week. That's not to say that the industries were not legal or that he felt that her employment in any way diminished his opinion of her. Mrs. Miller's response was that she had no intention of showing the children how to roll dice, but wanted to describe her job which involved supervisory responsibilities, along with ability for math, a knack for public relations, and some accounting skills. She also emphasized that this was a viable career that provided financial stability for her family. Her last appeal was that she just wanted to be there for her daughter in this school-sponsored event.

As a compromise, Mr. Weber offered to approach the seventh grade teachers to see if she could talk about accounting principles. He assured her that someone would get in touch with her. The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

Mrs. Miller received a call from Mrs. Blythe, who expressed regret, but she was not invited to talk about accounting. Actually, Mrs. Miller agreed that she was not qualified to speak about accounting. Although her job required someone with a good head for numbers, she was not an accountant.

Additional Background Information

  • Although gambling is now legal in the state of Missouri, anti-gambling and pro-gambling forces battled one another during the presentation of the amendment to permit its establishment. Moral objections to legalizing gambling were expressed by conservative groups and religious congregations. Urban areas voted for the gambling amendment and rural areas voted against the amendment. The suburban areas were split.
  • The casino built its facilities without asking for a tax subsidy.
  • The school district is a beneficiary of the state tax on casinos. The district received $1.05 million in new funds from gaming taxes the previous year and the funds increased to $1.3 million for the current year.
  • The district had been considered a rural district ten years ago. Due to reasonable housing costs, a large number of young families moved into the district from the nearby metropolitan area.

The people and events in this case are based on a real-life situation. Information in the case was collected from publicly available printed sources, and through interviews. All interviewees and information sources have given permission for inclusion of the information provided in this case. The initial draft of this work was a product of an ethical case study grant issued to Dr. McCown through the College of Public Service at Saint Louis University.



Discussion Questions

  • How well does the school know its community here or not? Is it acting appropriately on that knowledge?
  • Should the school have Mrs. Miller talk about her job? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Mrs. Miller presenting her career to the class?
  • How can the principal communicate in an empathetic manner with Mrs. Miller about a decision not to let her speak to the middle school class about working at a casino?
  • What can the school do to repair the situation with Mrs. Miller and Jan?
  • What are the possible reactions to this situation within the community? What tactic would you take explaining this situation to other parents? Can you address this issue in a positive light?
  • What do you think will be the major consequences of this situation for Jan and her mother, the school, and the community? What process would you propose to set in place so that this type of situation does not happen again?
  • Suppose the following people are interested in speaking to the class during Career Week:
    • A truck driver that delivers beer
    • A doctor that works at an abortion clinic
    • An executive that works at a top tobacco firm
    • A dancer that works as a National League Football cheerleader
    • A dancer that works at a night club (fully clothed)
    Would you allow any or all of these people to speak? If some are acceptable and some are not, what issues separate them? If you believe that none of them should be allowed to speak, what criteria would you use to select speakers?
  • Do you know of school districts that have a policy on which careers are appropriate and which careers are inappropriate for Career Week? If so, think about the district's policy in light of this incident.
    • Does the policy differ at certain levels: elementary, middle, and high school?
    • Is the current policy on speakers comprehensive enough to cover this situation?
    • What adjustments need to be made?
  • If you do not know of a district that has a policy, create one. How would this policy differ from a similar policy developed at the high school and elementary levels?



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