Nestled among the boutiques and restaurants of the prefab wonderland of Weston City Center, on this beautiful sunny Wednesday, trendy Gen Xers are sucking frothy frappuccinos through straws while chatting with friends at the dozens of café tables outside Starbucks. In the midst of it all, Danny Dickey sits coolly slouched in his chair while making plans on his cell phone. At age 16, Dickey is the youngest person here at noon, an hour when kids his age are supposed to be in school.
Dickey, who was recently suspended from Cypress Bay High School, has plenty of time. Blue-green eyes blazing against his olive-toned skin, Dickey says he just wants to keep it real, and he leans forward to emphasize the point. "I was taught to always stand up for myself, to not let people push me around." The handsome 11th-grader details his recent problems at Broward County's new $46 million high school like Johnnie Cochran addressing a jury. "They tell us that we don't fit the Cypress Bay image," he says, "that they don't want kids like us at Cypress Bay and they're going to do whatever it takes to get us out of there."
Dickey isn't the kind of kid you'd think a principal would have it in for. He's an upper-class, well-spoken teenager whose parents live in a half-million-dollar house in an affluent suburb. He sings in the school chorus. Last semester, he signed up for Honors Debate. In the ninth grade, he was homecoming king. And today, wearing $200 worth of Sean John clothes, he seems to have walked right off the set of BET's 106 & Park. Dickey's immaculate white and navy-blue sweater hangs big and low over his loose, long, and creased navy-blue shorts, which stop midcalf, just above a pair of expensive sneakers. His hair is neatly trimmed, likely a fringe benefit of his after-school job at Carl's Barbershop in Davie, and the single diamond stud in his left ear looks real. He's ghetto preppy, if such a style exists.
He brags about the A minus he recently earned for an English paper on John Steinbeck. One day, he says, he'd like to become a lawyer or a journalist. Or maybe he'll work in the entertainment industry, either producing records or rapping, he says, before breaking into an impromptu rhyme that makes it clear this kid's got mad flow: "You talk about the projects, but that shit don't pass/The only projects you've seen were in science class." It's a phrase he used a few weeks ago in a Davie nightclub to tear down a tough talker at an open-mic night he organized and promoted, a side venture that Dickey says earned him $200.
But his mic skills get him nowhere with the high school power structure. Dickey says Cypress Bay's principal, Scott Neely, recently called him a "gangsta" and a "thug" several times. Dickey and two other boys were suspended two weeks ago, and he insists that several dozen of the school's 2,800 students are unfairly targeted because they dress hip-hop. Like the others, he worries that expulsion is the next step. "I think they suspended me this time so I'd miss midterms and my GPA would drop below a 2.0," Dickey explains. "If you're 16 and you've got less than a 2.0, they can take you before the board of administrators to have you removed from the school."
Enid Valdez, one of Cypress Bay's assistant principals, declines to comment on any individual student but says that the school simply follows the School Board's policy on student conduct. "When a student breaks the policy rules," Valdez says, "we follow the letter of the law."
Today at Starbucks, Dickey can't talk long. The silver lining to his ten-day suspension is that now he has time to work on the Cancun vacation package he plans to sell to his classmates; he has a 1 p.m. appointment to discuss it with a travel agent. During a conversation that lasts less than half an hour, Dickey's cellular flip phone rings six times, and his mannerisms and tonal inflections change nearly as often. He shifts easily from an affected urban "Yo dawg, wazzup?" on one call to a sweet and proper "Oh, hi, Jennifer. Listen, sweetheart, can I call you back in a few minutes? I'm kind of in the middle of something right now" on another.
It's difficult to understand how school administrators have escaped his charms. But since the school opened last fall, Dickey has been suspended six times, each time for reasons that would likely earn him menial punishment or extra homework at other schools. Two of his suspensions were for coming to school while he was suspended. One was for switching seats in the In-School Suspension classroom. Dickey didn't provide the suspension notices for the other three censures but insists that he's never been caught skipping school, smoking, fighting, or committing any of the more serious offenses for which teenagers are usually suspended.
Dickey, though, doesn't have time to dwell on his misfortune; he has work to do. With perspective beyond his years, he seems to believe that high school is merely something to be endured. Still, the days he's been kept from class are messing with his plans. If Dickey is forced to leave Cypress Bay, his options will be limited to attending an alternative program for dropouts, earning a General Equivalency Diploma, or going through life without a high school degree. "I don't want to do that," he says. "I've already got 11 years invested in school. I want to earn my diploma."
Without it, he fears his future education options will begin and end with community college, a track that will make reaching his goals more difficult. But he is convinced that Cypress Bay administrators are out to get him. "There are 64 cameras in that school, and I think they keep one trained on me all the time," Dickey says. "They watch me nonstop. When you watch somebody like that, it's just a matter of time before you catch them doing something, and that's when they suspend me."
Oscar Lopez, 16, isn't wealthy like Dickey, but he understands his former classmate's predicament. Lopez, the son of solidly middle-class parents, was recently suspended for five days from Cypress Bay. He says that he and Dickey were singled out and told to leave the cafeteria by a security guard. Upset with the rude treatment, they went to the principal's office to file a complaint but were denied the necessary forms. Then they were suspended. At least, that's what they say.
On January 21, Lopez dropped out of school because he says he was being unfairly harassed by the school's administrators. "Don't get me wrong -- I'm not that great of a kid," Lopez says. "But the reasons they suspended me were stupid." Lopez says that he has been suspended four times this school year and that, like Dickey, none of the suspensions was for a serious violation. He admits that in years past, he's been in trouble for fighting, but that was when he attended Weston High School. This year at Cypress Bay, he hasn't been in a single fight. He says that before the suspensions started, his grades for his four courses were two A's and two B's. When he withdrew from school two weeks ago, his grades were a B, a C, and two F's.
His marks dropped, he says, because he wasn't allowed to make up the work he missed and he couldn't catch up after missing weeks of classroom instruction. "Now I just want to get my GED and become a barber," Lopez says. "Before, I thought I wanted to go to college, but it's just not worth the hassle to get an education."
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