An Unusual Punishment, but Likely Not Illegal

By Dr. Robert Wallace

September 16, 2020 5 min read

DR. WALLACE: When I was attending my school before our campus closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was very late one day to my physical education class. For punishment, my teacher said I could stay after school for 30 minutes or write a five-page paper on why it is important to be on time and to respect rules that all students are required to follow.

I chose the paper. It took me multiple hours to complete, but it was better than spending a half-hour after school picking up trash. I told this story to my cousin who lives in another state, and he told me it was against the law for any teacher to make a student write a paper for simply being tardy to class. Is this correct? — Punished for Tardiness, via email

PUNISHED FOR TARDINESS: It all depends on how you choose to look at this situation. First of all, your letter mentioned "very late" without giving a reason for this tardiness.

Therefore, it could be that you decided to intentionally cut class and then changed your mind and showed up and entered the classroom, even though you knew it would raise the eyebrows of both your instructor and your classmates.

In any case, I do note that you were given two options here: write the paper or simply stay a half-hour after school and help clean up the campus during that time. Based on this, I feel the punishment was reasonable — even if writing a paper about tardiness is an unusual punishment. I'll admit I have never heard of that one in my experience.

Finally, your cousin lives in another state and may not fully be informed on your state's laws. However, it would not hurt for you to check to see if there are any laws in your state prohibiting this type of punishment, but I highly doubt that you will find anything that would exclude either of the two punishments you were offered. My advice? Write a good, double-spaced, five-page paper, and turn it in with the right amount of respect and remorse. I trust this will put the issue permanently behind you — as long as you do not repeat the mistake that put you in this position to start with.


DR. WALLACE: I just moved to a new city at the beginning of the school year last year, so it's now been almost a full year. A couple of days after being here, I met a really nice guy. We began to hang out a bit at school back then, and I was very happy to have him as a friend — and maybe something more. But we don't meet for school in person anymore due to COVID-19, so I don't see him in person like I used to.

I have been able to text him occasionally over the past few months, and I was shocked last week when he just told me that he already has a girlfriend who lives in another city almost two hours away from our town. He said we should just continue to be friends at our school when it reopens, and I agreed.

Well, guess what? What used to be two or three texts a month have now recently turned into regular telephone calls! And when this guy calls me, we end up talking for hours. I spoke with him three times last week for a grand total of about five hours! We have a lot in common, and he's super easy to talk to. We laugh a lot, and it seems to me like he's kind of flirting with me, but in a subtle, indirect way. I really like this guy, and now I'm confused. I just don't get it. Are we about to be dating someday soon, or are we simply destined to always just be friends? — Receiving Mixed Signals, via mail

RECEIVING MIXED SIGNALS: Your situation is more common than you might realize, and that's good news. I'd say it's time to have a heart-to-heart talk with this guy. Tell him you care for him and that it's obvious he cares for you, too. Ask him if he has serious feelings about the girl he is dating, or if that is more of a casual long-distance friendship. If he says he is in a relationship, then tell him to spend more time calling her and to stop calling you so frequently. Tell him your logic for this is that you want to be a good friend to him, and friends respect their friends' relationships.

If he says his "girlfriend" who lives hours away is really more of a friend than a girlfriend, tell him you won't say no if he would like to ask you out on a formal date. Say no more, and see how he answers you. I trust you'll soon find out where you stand. It could be that he mentioned an "out-of-town girlfriend" as a defense mechanism against rejection to test the waters with you before asking you out on a date directly.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: StartupStockPhotos at Pixabay

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