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Flexibility in school discipline has Virginia teen over barrel

When it comes to a young student's opportunities for the future there are few things that can rattle their cage more than the threat of something like a suspension or expulsion being put on their permanent record. Perhaps the only thing that might be worse is if allegations of criminal activity result in a conviction and a criminal record.

The latter is something that one Jamestown High juvenile doesn't have to worry about. But what he and his family are struggling with is trying to erase a 10-day suspension stemming from weapon-related allegations. What perhaps makes the situation most frustrating for this youth who has never been in trouble before is that under Virginia state law, the alleged weapon probably wouldn't be considered a weapon at all.

The story of how the whole situation developed is rather interesting, too.

According to the boy's father, it all started May 28 with the disappearance of a teacher's key. Suspicion apparently fell on the teen because he had been in the proximity of the keychain that held the key for a time the day it went missing.

The story is that the boy and a friend drove to get an off-campus lunch that day and when they returned, school security confronted the boy. They allegedly searched the boy's car looking for the missing key. The boy said he knew nothing about it and they didn't find it. What they did find was a knife, which prompted the suspension for a weapons violation.

Here's where the legal aspect gets interesting. The knife in question is one that the boy uses for his job in a Colonial Williamsburg kitchen. It's a tool of his trade, and Virginia state law holds an exception that states that such tools shouldn't be construed as weapons.

But the school district says it's not bound by that rule. It says it has leeway to exercise discipline as it sees fit since the boy wasn't expelled.

The family is appealing the suspension, but it won't be heard until later this month. Meanwhile, this high school senior has had to endure suspension and suffer the ignominy of being unable to participate in the state track meet.

But the father says his son's biggest fear is that a suspension on his record could affect his son's aspirations of joining the Marine Corps.

Source: The Virginia Gazette, "Jamestown student fights suspension on grounds kitchen  blade is a tool," Susan Robertson, June 4, 3013; The Virginia Gazette, "Virginia law helps, hurts Jamestown student facing discipline over kitchen knife," Susan Robertson, June 7, 2013