- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A middle school boy has been suspended from school for 10 days and faces expulsion after buying a pocket knife from another student and taking it home to use in his fishing tackle box, according to the boy’s father.
John Bogner of California said another student approached his 11-year-old son one day last week and asked if he wanted to buy a pocket knife. His son agreed and took the knife home that afternoon, where he left it the next school day.
At school the next day the son paid the other boy $2 for the knife, the father said.
Later that day, however, the boy who sold the pocket knife was caught selling other knives, according to the father. That boy told the school’s administrators he had also sold a knife to Bogner’s son.
Administrators at Esperanza Middle School dealt with the incident quickly, giving Bogner’s son 10 days of out-of-school suspension and scheduling an expulsion hearing at the end of that period, the boy’s father said. That is the maximum penalty for an “other weapons” offense based on the county’s student code of conduct.
School administrators said they would not comment on the specifics of the incident.
Mike Wyant, the school system’s safety and security director, said there were three boys involved in the incident at Esperanza when the school resource officer intervened. One boy was charged by the police, Wyant said.
“The protocol was followed,” based on his initial review of the matter, he said Tuesday.
According to the boy’s father, school administrators rushed to the disciplinary consequences.
“My son was wrong for doing it,” Bogner said. However, he said, the punishment should have matched the crime, and with no intent of using the knife at school, 10 days suspension was too severe.
Bogner said he would have envisioned several days of in-school intervention or, at the worst, a few days of out-of-school suspension, but not the maximum penalty.
“I am trying to go through an appeal process with the school board,” the father said this week.
Bogner said his son was “a straight A student,” through elementary school, he said. The boy was adjusting to middle school life well, the father said, participating in after-school sports and other activities and getting A’s and B’s.
The sixth-grader had never had a discipline issue before the knife incident, Bogner said. He also had yet to miss a day of school so far this year.
“He’s home now. He’s missing all kinds of days of school now,” the father said.
The father said that school administrators asked his son if he had been in trouble before, but never officially looked into it. He transferred to St. Mary’s public schools this year after his father moved from Calvert County.
Administrators did not take his prior clean record of behavior and good grades into account, the father said. “I think it’s a big show of power,” he said.
On the same day the boy bought the knife, school administrators updated the school board at a scheduled meeting on changes to suspension policy and upcoming changes at the Maryland State Department of Education level. St. Mary’s and other Maryland school districts have been urged by the state board of education to do away with any “zero tolerance” policies with regard to discipline.
The aim of the rules is to reduce the time students spend out of school for discipline problems. The number of suspensions given to black students in St. Mary’s public schools dropped from 967 to 904 during the last two years.
Local school board members generally praised the rules, especially the concept of keeping students in school to learn.
Part of the new policy hinges on what are considered “violent” offenses, school administrators said. Only those type of offenses labeled as violent should result in out-of-school suspensions of five or more days.
School board member Mary Washington said this Tuesday she would not comment on the specific incident at Esperanza Middle School. She said that type of transaction should have been done outside of the school with a parent’s involvement, adding an example of a Boy Scout purchasing a pocket knife.
Washington said bringing any weapon to a school is a major offense, and it is the responsibility of school employees to keep students safe.
“We don’t want weapons in school, we don’t want drugs in school,” Washington said. “We just want all students to be safe.”
She said that when a student is suspended, they do have access to schoolwork to do at home.
Board member Cathy Allen said she would not comment on the specific incident, but that she believed school officials never used a zero-tolerance approach to discpline and that they used progressive discipline, upping the consequences for successive infractions.
According to an annual report on the number of suspensions in Maryland schools, Esperanza had the most offenses among St. Mary’s schools in 2010-2011, the most recent data available. That year there were six weapons violations at Esperanza that resulted in suspension. There were 35 weapons violations at all county schools out of the more than 2,000 incidents that resulted in suspensions during the 201-2011 school year.