Graham Dennis and Casey Edsall are two high school students who play lacrosse. (Right off the bat, we like them.) Last year as they were boarding their team bus, the principal of Easton High School (Maryland) said he was going to search the equipment bags of players as the school had received a tip that there might be alcohol in some of the bags.
When he got to the bags of Dennis, he told the principal he would find a small knife and a multi-purpose tool in his bag. Edsall told the principal he would find a small knife in his gear bag as well.
Sure enough, the principle found a 2 inch knife in a plastic bag within the gear bags. The principal also found the multi-purpose tool and a lighter in the bag of Edsall.
The boys used the tools to fix lacrosse sticks if needed on the sidelines. In case you aren’t familiar with fixing lacrosse sticks, a multi-purpose tool would be used for something like replacing the head on a stick, or used to pull the twine lacing of a stick through the head. A knife would be used to trim the laces and as the lased are made of nylon, a lighter is used to melt the cut ends so the laces don’t unravel.
In our mind, that is a perfectly legitimate thing to carry in a gear bag. Sticks break. That is all there is to it and if you can’t fix the stick, you either don’t play or you have to use someone elses stick which is a lot like wearing someone elses underwear. (Players are that picky about their sticks, the way they are strung, the webbing, etc.)
The principal, however, did not see tools of the stick repairing trade. No, he saw dangerous weapons. So dangerous in fact, that Dennis was taken to the principal’s office where the police were called and he was placed in handcuffs. Why? Because the schools and the police have a “zero tolerance” policy on things such as knives and lighters in public schools. After all, a knife with a two inch blade can….ummmmm…. well it can cut some string. And the lighter? Well, that is classified as an “explosive device.”
We kid you not.
Edsall was given a one day suspension while Dennis (who obviously was masquerading as a terrorist with a Bic lighter) was suspended for ten days.
How did the school justify such draconian punishments in light of the kids being honest in telling the principal about the tools as well as the lighter?
But Lynne Duncan, Talbot County supervisor of student services, said the school system has to follow Maryland law, which states that students may not have any weapon on school property. “Our policy doesn’t allow for it,” Duncan said.
Ah yes. The ol’ “we were just following orders” excuse.
And just when you think you have heard it all comes this bit of heifer hockey:
[Talbot schools Superintendent Karen] Salmon, who stands behind the school system’s decision, said in a letter to the Dennis family that having a weapon on school property is a criminal offense that could be punished with three years in jail. “Given the severity of this violation expulsion is warranted,” she wrote to the family in a letter in April. But because of extenuating circumstances, she said, she would allow the student to return to school after 10 days.
“Severity of this violation?” Who is this moron trying to fool? The kids had some small tools in a bag to fix sporting equipment. That is not a “violation.” That is the American spirit of being prepared and self reliance.
Fast forward to this year and the two players have had their records expunged.
Two Easton High School lacrosse players should not have been suspended or arrested for having a penknife and lighter in their lacrosse bags, according to the Maryland state school board, which ordered that the boys’ records be wiped clean.
In a legal opinion released Tuesday, the state school board said Talbot County school officials had failed to use “appropriate discretion” in disciplining the two lacrosse players, who said they carried the items to repair their lacrosse sticks.
At this point in time, it would seem that all’s well that ends well, but that may not be the case.
When the case went to the state school board, the Talbot County School Board did not send the whole file:
The state board also criticized the local board for failing to give the state school board its whole file on the case. Only after the state board asked for the missing documents did the Talbot board turn over all of them, including a letter from the assistant lacrosse coach on the bus during the search.
In essence, you have the local school board not being totally honest.
But there is another issue here as well.
Remember this quote?
Talbot County supervisor of student services, said the school system has to follow Maryland law, which states that students may not have any weapon on school property. “Our policy doesn’t allow for it,” Duncan said.
If there is a law preventing a “weapon” on school grounds, how can the State School Board simply say, “we aren’t going to follow the law?” Something has to give here. Either the school has to follow the law and the State School Board can’t ignore that law, or there is no such law to begin with.
Sure enough, there is such a law:
MARYLAND CRIMINAL LAW CODE ANNOTATED 4-102.
Deadly weapons on school property
(a) Exceptions. — This section does not apply to:
(1) a law enforcement officer in the regular course of the officer’s duty;
(2) a person hired by a county board of education specifically for the purpose of guarding public school property;
(3) a person engaged in organized shooting activity for educational purposes; or
(4) a person who, with a written invitation from the school principal, displays or engages in a historical demonstration using a weapon or a replica of a weapon for educational purposes.
(b) Prohibited. — A person may not carry or possess a firearm, knife, or deadly weapon of any kind on public school property.
(c) Penalty. –
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, a person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 1,000 or both.
(2) A person who is convicted of carrying or possessing a handgun in violation of this section shall be sentenced under Subtitle 2 of this title.
It turns out the school was right and the State School Board was wrong if one goes by the strict letter of the law. Yet it is that “strict letter of the law” that is the problem here.
In this case, you have two kids who weren’t going to use the knives or lighters as weapons. The kids weren’t going to use them in any illegal activity. Yet according the law, there is no wiggle room: if you have a knife, you can go to jail for three years.
Laws like the one above take away the discretion of teachers, principals and school boards to examine the intent of the actions of kids. To someone sitting in a legislature, all knives are deadly weapons and people must be punished.
So what have the kids in this incident – as well as the kids in the entire high school – learned? First, don’t be honest with an authority figure. Lie, cheat, and obfuscate if you can. Secondly, they have learned that school boards are dishonest and won’t turn over files and documents when it may hurt them. And lastly, the only people being held accountable for this mess were the two kids.
The school and the Talbot County School Board get a slap on the wrist at best.
The State Board has willfully broken the law.
Lastly, the chuckleheads in the Maryland State Legislature won’t do anything to fix this and prevent it from happening again.
“Accountability” is always for the other guys – never for the government.