Want butter with your honor roll? NO SCHOOL FOR YOU!!! (updated)

Here’s one for the “School Administrators are Idiots” file: A 14 year-old, honor-roll student gets suspended, and then expelled, for accidentally bringing a butter knife to school. (Note: for fun, read my post first, then go back to the article if you’re interested. In my post, I refrain from indicating the student’s race and gender while presenting the case so as not to contaminate any conclusions based on irrelevant things.)

This one goes a little deeper than the “does a butter knife actually reasonably qualify as a weapon” debate. I’ll get to that in a moment, but even if we accept that strict, literal claim, it can still be easily argued that the administration of Goose Creek High School and the wannabe leaders of the Berkeley County School District are mentally challenged simply by examining how they interpreted their own policy in light of the facts of this issue.

First, let’s look at the facts here:

  1. Subject is a fourteen year-old human adolescent.
  2. Subject is an honor-roll student, active in JROTC.
  3. Excepting a singular dress-code violation, subject has no history or priors of being in any trouble whatsoever.
  4. Subject claims to enjoy school, and is highly praised by teachers.
  5. Subject was found to be in possession of a “butter knife”, understood to be of the typical eating utensil type.
  6. Subject has an easily believable alibi, which asserts that bringing the butter knife to school was accidental.
  7. School officials were only alerted to the existence of the butter knife due to overhearing joking comments from another student; i.e. no threats were made, no brandishment of the butter knife occurred, and the subject wasn’t reported by anyone due to them being worried about the subject’s intentions.
  8. Possession of the butter knife was judged to be in violation of school policy, and the subject was immediately placed on out-of-school suspension, and, after a hearing, was expelled.

Now, let us rummage around in the school district’s policy documents (since the school’s student handbook is nowhere to be found on the otherwise complete website). The only reference to “knife” is found in the AR JCDA-R Student Behavior Code, under the heading of Criminal conduct - Level III. Here’s their definition of Criminal Conduct:

Criminal conduct is defined as those activities in which students engage that result in violence to themselves or to another’s person or property or which pose a direct and serious threat to the safety of themselves or others in the school.

Later in that section, a few examples of criminal conduct are given. “Possession, use or transfer of weapons” is listed as one of these examples. Note well that the examples given aren’t listed as automatically being classified as criminal conduct, they are simply things that might be criminal conduct. Finally, we get to the generic word “knife”, which is listed specifically as a definition of the word “weapon”. Make a mental note for later that this definition also includes “any other type of device or object which may be used to inflict bodily injury or death”.

Let us give the school administration the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and simply accept that a standard butter knife actually qualifies as a weapon. It is, after all, based on a definition which also would include other things found at school such as shoelaces, sharpened pencils, scissors, compasses, and letter openers, not to mention things like heavy backpacks or baseball bats. I will assume also that there’s no cafeteria on school grounds, or there’s no butter knives in the cafeteria. No, we’ll set aside our intelligence for a moment and simply accept the claim that a butter knife is a weapon.

The question now becomes: In this instance, does possession of a weapon constitute criminal conduct? Let us look back to the definition of criminal conduct. Was possession of this weapon something which resulted in violence or damage to property? No opinion needed here; it is factually true that there was no such result. That only leaves us with things “which pose a direct and serious threat to the safety of themselves or others in the school”.

And there we have it: An honor-roll student with no criminal record and no history of discipline problems accidentally brings a common butter knife to school and the school administration deemed this to pose a direct and serious threat and thus an incident of criminal conduct. This, despite the school’s spokesperson saying later that “school officials had no reason to believe [the student] had any nefarious or violent intent in transporting the butter spreader onto school property”. Not only that, but they chose the most extreme punishment available for cases of criminal conduct, despite that same policy’s indication that administrators should consider mitigating circumstances.

What really causes my jaw to drop on this one is that this wasn’t some single administrator who went insane here, there was a hearing. The above wasn’t a random snap judgement, it represents the collective wisdom of the entire administration.

To the school officials: Way to go, morons. If you ask me, it looks like you’re incompetent at identifying direct and serious threats, which is highly worrisome given your position. It looks like you have a serious deficiency in both wisdom and compassion, as shown by your inability to match severity of punishments to severity of offenses. And worst of all, despite being responsible for education, you’ve placed a needless roadblock in the education of a person who was eagerly pursuing it, as well as robbing your teachers of a good student whose very presence in their classes improved the class as well as their professional enjoyment of teaching it. By the way, I just love the bit in the news article where your spokesperson said “Certainly, if it was my child, I would have a different perspective”. Yeah, I bet you would. There’s a word for people like you. Dumbass.

To the student, Amber Dauge: In the news article, you said “I know I made a really stupid decision…”. No, you didn’t. A simple mistake isn’t the same thing as a stupid decision. An example of a stupid decision would be something like deciding to use a butter knife as a weapon, especially given the availability of sharp pencils or a book-filled backpack. Or falling in with the wrong crowd during your expulsion and getting pregnant. Now it may be true that you should’ve dropped the knife somewhere prior to entering school grounds (I don’t go for the “immediately turning it in” idea; knowing these numnuts, they’d still have busted you), but brainfarts like this are actually quite common in humans.

To the parents: Fight this as hard as you possibly can. In the article, you said “We hope that there will be some kind of rational thought”, but you should realize that the probability of that is low given that this is even an issue. A gifted child…your child….is watching you, looking towards the example you choose to set when faced with a question of justice, honor, and loyalty. There’s other reasons, involving the sending of a message to school authorities everywhere that we’re not going to be putting up with this crap, but really, the fact that the example you set for your kid will affect decisions she makes over the course of her life should be enough. You should note that this isn’t the first issue over a butter knife in school; a few years ago, Ethan Gray, a first-grader in an Omaha elementary school, was suspended for the same thing. And one should note that that was just a handy reference, there are *tons* of this exact same issue.

If I were dispensing justice here, every school official responsible for this debacle would be fired instantly. But, given that they’re so obviously lacking in the mental department, perhaps they deserve a little mercy, so I might be inclined to back off a little and simply force them to exclusively use butter knives to cut their steaks and carve their turkeys for the entire duration of the student’s expulsion. Perchance that’d give them some insight on weapons which pose a serious and direct threat to flesh.

~~~ UPDATE 10/28: ~~~

The news came out the other day that there was an appeals hearing on this case, and the school board unanimously decided to overturn Amber’s expulsion. This is being lauded as universally good news, with Amber and her family quite happy about the outcome. And, for the most part, I am as well. The expulsion was stupid, and it’s quite nice to see the school board admitting as much (although I tend to believe that it was likely due to the massive news coverage and political pressure as much as anybody suddenly getting a new, improved brain).

However, I’m still bothered. Y’see, they didn’t simply overturn the expulsion, apologizing to the girl for their insipid antics; they simply reduced the punishment. Instead of suspension, she is now on probation for the remainder of the year, and is subject to random spot searches of her person, backpack, purse, locker, etc. Excuse me? So they’re still claiming that an accidental possession of a butter knife by an honor roll student with no history of trouble is somehow wrong, somehow in violation of their precious zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons? That line of reasoning only makes sense if you’re an idiot.

This was no true victory, other than the fact that Amber can return to school (which, admittedly, was of utmost importance). The administration still believe they have some kind of justification for being idiots; still believing that Amber owes them some kind of debt for her sins against their brainless interpretation of their stupid rule. To them, she was still engaging in criminal conduct, and needs to be subjected to even more privacy violations than the typical student. This crap will still show up on her record, and has the ability to screw with her evaluations in the JROTC program.

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One Response to “Want butter with your honor roll? NO SCHOOL FOR YOU!!! (updated)”

  1. Lori Says:

    I am in a similar situation. My child goes to Segdefield Middle school, right behind Goose Creek High School. My child was caught looking at a pocket knife her friend brought to school and was expelled. She did not even have the opportunity to tell an adult about the knife before they were seen with it. I have a pending hearing in front of the Board of Education in 2 weeks time. In the mean time, my child misses 3 weeks of class work, home work and tests. She is an A-B student and has only been in minor trouble once before in all of her years at school. How can the student possibly make all of that work up? Will this cause her to have to repeat the 7th grade. If so why send her back to school at all this year?