Ashley Smithwick and the Paring Knife

Since I live near Raleigh, and Sanford is pretty close, I spent the morning in the Lee County Board of Education’s emergency meeting. Instapundit posted that there would be an emergency meeting of the School Board to discuss Ashley Smithwick and her paring knife suspension/expulsion/double-secret probation.



First the hard news. The meeting was called to order at 9am promptly and immediately the Vice Chairman of the Board of Education, John Bonardi Jr., moved to go to closed session, to discuss “information not subject to public records,” and to “preserve the attorney client privilege.”. The vote was unanimous and the whole board left, saying they would be back soon. They returned at 9:41 AM and issued this statement.

The Lee County Board of Education is legally prohibited from releasing details and commenting on this student discipline matter further. The Board, however, contends strenuously that the related television and newspaper articles are inaccurate and that all relevant laws and board policies were adhered to and followed. Additional information will have to be obtained from the District Attorney and the Sanford Police Department. The Board, however, will be glad to comment further on this matter if the student and her parents will provide the Lee County Board of Education a written release of the school records.

Then the Board moved to adjourn and most of them left. The Chairman of the Board, Shawn E. Williams, and the Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Moss, stayed to speakwith the three TV media crews. I stuck around to listen.

Now for the “news analysis.” The whole thing struck me as silly. There was no reason to call an emergency meeting to have a discussion in private, to issue a press release. I can’t think of how they could have been more irritating in how they did it short of actually getting rude. The Chairman and the Superintendent were politicians. Who knew that a pair of leaders of a little school board in a small county in rural North Carolina would come across like seasoned politicians? They refused to characterize the situation at all. They did confirm that Ashley Smithwick was still enrolled at Southern Lee High School, but would not discuss whether or not she was allowed on campus. There are other students that are “enrolled” but are not on campus, such as homebound students, or others who are discipline problems, or students in “alternative” programs. This implied to me that the situation is as has been reported. She’s still “enrolled,” at the school, she just can’t go there. Or to any of her school related activities. Since she is enrolled, the school board would still be getting paid for her schooling, right?

When the discussion arose about the Smithwicks providing a written release, the Superintendent said that he would not, in their place, give a release to the press, because he would not want the press to be rooting around in his child’s records. That struck me as an implied threat. Don’t sign a release, or we’ll plaster every little detail of her records all over the news. That mischaracterizes the nature of a release. A parent and student may release all, some, or none of her records to anyone she chooses. It would be a simple matter for Ashley’s parents to have their lawyer type up a release allowing one person to read the records, and to give the School Board permission to speak to that one person. There is no particular reason that the release has to be all or nothing. I am willing to review those records and speak to the School Board if anyone knows Ashley and will put her in touch with me.

The things I want to know are
1.       What exactly was discovered
2.       Where it was discovered
3.       Why were they searching Ashley’s belongings for in the first place?
4.       Is she allowed on campus and to her extra-curricular activities?
5.       Why didn’t they shrug their shoulders and just tell her not to do it again?

What is law? Is it the words of the king, graven in stone, telling how you will be punished for violating laws you had no part in writing? Maybe in the days of Hammurabi, but now, in a common law country like the US, law is simply the prevailing morality of the community, written down. If we accept the story as basically true, Ashley had a knife in her lunch, for peeling her apple, the knife was her father’s, and so was the lunch pail, and the only reason Ashley had that pail was because of a mix up, then what we actually have is a conflict of world views. We aren’t arguing whether or not it is legal or not to carry a knife onto school campuses. What we are arguing is whether or not Ashley should be punished for a simple mix up. The School Board is pissed that she took her case to the court of public opinion.


The problem for the school board is that this is exactly where this should be decided. If the public does not see why Ashley should be suspended/expelled/placed of double-secret probation, then where exactly does the School Board get off making this a big deal? The fundamental question here is, who is in charge. Are a couple of elected School Board members and their hired Superintendent in charge? Or is the public at large allowed any oversight into their actions?
According to NC General Statutes, an ordinary paring knife is not a weapon for purposes of the weapons on campus law. The actual law here is


If the knife shown in the photo here or in this video above, is the same type of knife she was caught with, why did this become such a big issue? If it was a paring knife, does is that a “tool used solely for the preparation of food?” It is smaller than a simple pocket knife. One should keep in mind that when the law is an ass, applying it so vigorously makes you an ass as well.
Update: It seems that the Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Moss, is really not liked by the newspaper in his previous location.


The next post on Ashley Smithwick

32 Responses to Ashley Smithwick and the Paring Knife

  1. I read “used solely for preparation of food, instruction, and maintenance, on educational property” as relating to articles that are dedicated to food, instruction, or maintenance use on school property. Not any tool just used solely for preparation of food.

    But it not being a “bowie knife, dirk, dagger, or switchblade knife” should be presumption that it is not intended for use as a weapon. A paring knife with a forked tip does not present a generally menacing appearance

  2. Mick. You’re not reading it quite right. Not that I blame you. It’s a hell of a run-on sentence. If you pare it down, it reads thus:

    “It shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed … [multiple objects] … on educational property.”

    Back to the main point: remarkably, it seems they are doubling down. What idiots. I hope she sues their asses into bankruptcy.

  3. Unless there’s something else here that we’re not being told about, the school’s response is in violation of their own policies, which state that the student can ONLY be hit with long-term suspension for “willfully” violating school policies — an impossible condition to meet if she didn’t even know she had the knife. Also, trying to shift ALL blame to the principal is completely bogus, because long-term suspension can only be imposed with case-specific “prior approval from the superintendent.” Either this penalty was approved at the top level of the district by the super before being imposed, or it was done in violation of district policy.

    Also, the standards for even a short-term suspension include the district’s three tests for “determination of consequence,” said tests involving the culpability of the student (non-existent if the student’s story is true!); dangerousness of the student (seems like ZERO from here); and harm caused by the student (likewise, ZERO).

    I hope they sue the hell out of the district, principal, and superintendent for this assinine PC idiocy. From the available facts, they’ve got a good case.

  4. Its an age old question, and the question is not whether a fruit-knife is a weapon.

    The question is how to hold government officials accountable for their actions, with the additional irritant that the local officials are of a different culture (we suspect gentry liberal) than elements of their surrounding community.

    The officials make decisions taking the facts, but importing, as they must, the cultural framework within which they operate. Not only a status-driven abhorance to anything resembling a weapon, but a deference to credentialed authority, by which they mean, themselves.

    There is really no easy answer. Authority is like vegetation; grows toward the sunlight, authority, and power. And at times becomes a nuisance, a threat even, and must be ruthlessly pruned back, rude questions asked, knuckles rapped, officials recalled, reputations challenged. They do their job, the public does theirs.

  5. 1. It’ll be interesting to see how the Smithwicks respond to the release-of-records issue.

    2. “Additional information will have to be obtained from the District Attorney and the Sanford Police Department.”

    Indeed. Why is the District Attorney magnifying this incident into a misdemeanor charge?

    3. I’m inclined to make this comment more pungent than it is, but not all the facts are out. However, so far, the more the facts emerge, the worse the authorities look.

  6. The school board must have the most inept PR people in existence.

    They call a public meeting, go into private session, then refuse to say what was discussed in private session and refuse to discuss the Smithwick case in any detail. They then leave except for those who stay for the TV crews, but they don’t talk specifics, don’t answer questions, and openly wonder why it’s taken two months for the public to find out and care about the case.

    Did I miss something?

    If they can’t talk specifics and can’t talk about the case at all, then why publicize a public meeting that has, as its sole apparent purpose, an executive session?

    Then there is the comment about the two month mystery — why didn’t the family go through the appeals process. Now that is an interesting question. Was the family made aware of the appeals process? What were they told? Was an appeal scheduled or even offered? If so, for when? Did the family refuse to go through the appeals process? If so, what was their stated reason, and if not, what is the status of the appeal? Could the family request an appeal tomorrow or has the time for an appeal passed.

    So, so many questions just about that one part of the situation.

  7. What’s with North Carolina? Shades of Mike Nifong.

  8. “normal appeal procedures” either means slow-rolled until after the next board election (when your current possibilities in life have evaporated), or “hire my brother-in-law, esq. to represent you” and we won’t permanently foul up your kid’s life.

    Also, by this statute a carpenter or electrician can bring in saws, nails, screws, wire cutters and wire strippers for “maintenance” but not to construct an addition.

  9. Go to The Beaufort Observer and read about all the crap that Moss did to the Beaufort County, NC, school system. They’re still reeling from his ‘influence’ down there. He’s a nasty man, with nasty politics and, once hired, he’s hard as hell to get rid of. He’s a big hit with the school boards (politics, don’t you know) but he’s never popular with the parents.
    middleagedhousewife

  10. Won’t be resolved at the school board level.

    Can the county (or state) legislature pass a resolution censuring the principal and superintendent? Can they pull their personnel records for “review”?

    Hey, can someone ask Obama what he thinks? He was perfectly willing to opine about suspected racism in Cambridge, Mass.

  11. As to the “inept PR people” comments —

    The lawyers are calling the shots here, not PR people. The school officials are acting on what they believe NC law to be, along with what they believe Federal student privacy statutes to be.

    Granted, they are now using the latter to shield themselves instead of the student, but yeah, they are trying to use the Federal privacy laws (Kinda like HIPAA does for health industries, these provisions threaten jail time, and are very unclear).

    Everyone I knew in school (in the 1970’s) carried a pocket knife. Now, I find out that makes all of us Public enemy #1. Then again, in the 1970’s we got paddled with serious paddles when we misbehaved.

  12. Thank you for taking the trouble to attend the meeting. I found you via Prof. Reynolds and there have to be lots of people like me who are trying to find out what in the world is going on here. I appreciate it. Anne

  13. I suspect that the Board rules required a public posting/announcement before they could meet, and that that part of it was NOT done for publicity, but rather to adhere to their own rules of order.

    Is the discussion about “release of records” about releasing them TO the Board, or FROM the Board (and to the general public/press)? I’m under the impression that the Board already has access to them (otherwise, how could the Superintendent have approved the suspension?).

  14. The discussion is about release of student records to the public. Obviously the Board must have the ability to read the records themselves. Otherwise they could not do their jobs.

  15. I am not surprised about the stonewalling/evasive actions of the Superintndent/School Board/Administrative officers. I have been attending school board meetings in my local district for over a year and what always amazes me that these people think they can pretty much do as they please and you (the taxpaying public) can just stuff it if you don’t like it. Why do we let these people get away with this kind of behavior.

  16. Sean, good post, and a pretty darn good discussion.

  17. School boards are run by crazy people, I had a similar experience in my life to what this girl is going through.
    School boards basically are non-functioning units, they make random decisions based on fear of getting sued, that is their #1 concern at all times, because they are trying to protect their budget.
    It’s a bad system but I don’t know what else to suggest

  18. i should add not just school boards but schools in general are run by idiots… it’s really sad…

  19. 1. Wrt the weapons charge against Smithwick, yesterday I asked, “Why is the District Attorney magnifying this incident into a misdemeanor charge?”

    DA Susan Doyle’s campaign Web site is here. Her office’s contact info is here. Caveat: I don’t know if the misdemeanor charge is due to Doyle or to local police.

    2. Lee County is trying to attract businesses. The Smithwick incident is bringing them to national attention, I’ll say that.

    3. Although the authorities continue to look worse as time passes, all the facts are not yet in.

  20. (A commenter emailed his comment to me because he couldn’t get his comment to work here. I have included it for him.)

    It’s the old issue of rules-based versus principles-based.

    One must have a firm commitment to an unwritten cultural context in order to manage on principles. But “values” are anathema to the left and they certainly won’t exercise the judgment required to implement.

    Thus we are stuck with the false dilemma “if we let the girl get away with a paring knife, then we won’t be able to stop the gangbanger with a machete…”

    Cowards.

    Robert Arvanitis

  21. “Why is the District Attorney magnifying this incident into a misdemeanor charge?”

    Well, could it be that, as thus far, the administration or public servants have achieved this much control over the public, would backing down, now, not tend to just wreck everything—could it be?

  22. Also, to the illiterate and otherwise unlearned who may be among us, any uncertainty as to whether a paring knife is a weapon or no, is shown to be easily answerable in the simple logic due the context of definitions: a paring knife, which is carried in the pocket of one who labors beneath the burden of a criminal record, is a weapon; or, if the blade has a blood fillet, it is a weapon—unless it is being used as a mere implement or tool.
    Nor will humor be found as useful: These are “educators”. Why would anyone think common sense would be in play? December 29, 2010 – 5:35 pm: some blog, somewhere.
    Nor is it about the lunch, at all: clearly seen, rather, there is there—in Sanford, North Carolina—and, as increasingly frequently is to be seen elsewhere in the nation—a mindless or intentional administrative vector in actualization for a simplistic arbitrary—or perhaps, malicious—effect, and in this way:
    Infrequently, some one will hold for example that kind of woman who—upon seeing another woman to have broken a heel or the like in public situation—will entertain some form of quiet, or—as it might be—not so quiet, pleasure. And, as in this article in description, School principal Bonnie Almond appears as just that kind of woman, but far worse; for, Bonnie doesn’t see and laugh from the other side of a room as it were, no, . . . rather, being in the control position and presumed competent as a decision-maker for this kind of simple question, from the conditions and elements—so easy to understand—which have come to her for inspection and resolution, then, by the activity, or—it might be—frailty of her own mind, as appears in that common pattern of competition, Bonnie, herself, has produced a desired effect against another woman; and though perhaps inadvertently, becoming a larger issue which follows from knowledge of her foolishness, into the mind of the larger community which the nation, is; and, this allegation is buttressed in the fact of a stubborn obstinacy of her associates to immediately set the matter straight, and then herself, to yield.
    So, she must be dragged to submission to reason and logic—she and they.
    As often occurs in most any such contest between reason and unreasonableness, between decency and indecency, between unwarrantable attack and noble defense, this instance is intended as Providential: for, as often happens, these kinds of things come together, for the purpose inherent to such surprising and potentially injurious occurrences, specifically, but to quite a different and desirable end, which is, for the honor due unto those who will work for community improvement.
    And herefrom, in suit, Bonnie’s abuse of the discretionary use of administrative process—her failure to correctly identify what a weapon is, or is not—and now, her unwillingness—should be pointed up in “the public forum”, hopefully, to end in rejection of her person and place in office, as school principal—and whatever redress beside, which the court in wisdom may see as shall best serve the graceful advance of that community, . . . with unwisdom, now so beleaguered—good golly people, please wake up

  23. Also, any uncertainty as to whether a paring knife is a weapon or no, is shown to be easily answerable in the simple logic due the context of definitions: a paring knife, which is carried in the pocket of one who labors beneath the burden of a criminal record, is a weapon; or, if the blade has a blood fillet, it is a weapon—unless it is being used as a mere implement or tool.
    Nor will humor be found as useful: These are “educators”. Why would anyone think common sense would be in play? December 29, 2010 – 5:35 pm: some blog, somewhere.
    Nor is it about the lunch, at all: clearly seen, rather, there is there—in Sanford, North Carolina—and, as increasingly frequently is to be seen elsewhere in the nation—a mindless or intentional administrative vector in actualization for a simplistic arbitrary—or perhaps, malicious—effect, and in this way:
    Infrequently, some one will hold for example that kind of woman who—upon seeing another woman to have broken a heel or the like in public situation—will entertain some form of quiet, or—as it might be—not so quiet, pleasure. And, as in this article in description, School principal Bonnie Almond appears as just that kind of woman, but far worse; for, Bonnie doesn’t see and laugh from the other side of a room as it were, no, . . . rather, being in the control position and presumed competent as a decision-maker for this kind of simple question, from the conditions and elements—so easy to understand—which have come to her for inspection and resolution, then, by the activity, or—it might be—frailty of her own mind, as appears in that common pattern of competition, Bonnie, herself, has produced a desired effect against another woman; and though perhaps inadvertently, becoming a larger issue which follows from knowledge of her foolishness, into the mind of the larger community which the nation, is; and, this allegation is buttressed in the fact of a stubborn obstinacy of her associates to immediately set the matter straight, and then herself, to yield.
    So, she must be dragged to submission to reason and logic—she and they.

  24. And to finish: As often occurs in most any such contest between reason and unreasonableness, between decency and indecency, between unwarrantable attack and noble defense, this instance is intended as Providential: for, as often happens, these kinds of things come together, for the purpose inherent to such surprising and potentially injurious occurrences, specifically, but to quite a different and desirable end, which is, for the honor due unto those who will work for community improvement.
    And herefrom, in suit, Bonnie’s abuse of the discretionary use of administrative process—her failure to correctly identify what a weapon is, or is not—and now, her unwillingness—should be pointed up in “the public forum”, hopefully, to end in rejection of her person and place in office, as school principal—and whatever redress beside, which the court in wisdom may see as shall best serve the graceful advance of that community, . . . with unwisdom, now so beleaguered—good golly people, please wake up, . . .

  25. gs said…1. It’ll be interesting to see how the Smithwicks respond to the release-of-records issue.

    The Smithwicks are hedging about releasing the records.

    Curiouser and curiouser.

  26. @gs No, they are not hedging. If the schools board’s implication that they can only release all of her records or none of her records is true–or if the family believes it–then they are wondering if every IQ test for example (whether high, low, or indifferent) and anything else that may be embarrassing in the records is worth exposing to further try the case in the court of public opinion. That’s not hedging, that’s evaluating.

    Of course, the family can make public whatever fraction of the record they wish to and none other. I presume they’ll find that out soon.

  27. Mick, I’ve taken your comment and passed it on to a reporter who made a whole story about the “food prep” exception to the story.

    http://ncguns.blogspot.com/2011/01/ashley-smithwick-and-paring-knife.html

  28. Does anyone know this girl? I do and she is not the innocent girl everyone thinks she is.

  29. “she’s not the innocent girl everyone thinks that, she is.”
    Okay, but, let’s not so easily confuse ourselves, in this: Shall we scourge you or her be scourged at law because of public knowledge of having slurred some one, . . . or, for having stolen a candy bar?
    Rather, for the legal sense of all cases in the pattern of which this present set of affairs must proceed, she—not having a criminal record—can hardly be said to have carried the knife as a weapon, your inferred facts about her not being “just a little angel”, notwithstanding, . . .

  30. Did she break the law by bringing the knife on campus? Not as far as I can tell. There’s an exception for “tools used solely for the preparation of food.”

    Even if she did break the law, does she deserve to be kicked off campus for accidentally bringing a knife to school? I don’t think so. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

    Finally, there is a fundamental principle of law in that you never punish a person for something that they haven’t done. Even if she was a bad person, you don’t punish her for (not) breaking a law. You punish her only for what she HAS done. Otherwise, leave her alone.

    She doesn’t have to be perfect. She just has to be innocent of what she is accused of. Since there doesn’t appear to be anything illegal about bringing food preparation tools on campus, she’s not guilty.

    If you know more, Anon 2:14pm, by all means, let us know. If you just don’t like her, too bad.

  31. Every one at our school is laughing at her story on the news and want to know why everybody in the United States believes her. She has taken honor courses but she cheated her way through them. Me and my friends have seen this first hand and her so called athletic talent is false. There is no way she is going to be a soccer star.

    Also the reason she was searched was because the administrators heard that she may have illegal drugs. She does drugs plain and simple, she has been caught at school. If you saw her face to face she looks like a skeleton. The truth is in front of people’s eyes. She just wants attention.

    Again, my entire school would back me up on this and if they news interviewed some of the student body they would see an entirely different view of Ashley.

    -Anonymous

  32. This other student above me is completely correct. Ms. Smithwick is a well known person in the school and so are her problems. The knife she had is not only used to cut apples and fruits but is also frequently used by students to cut pills before taking. The student body knows fully about her pill and other drug use and the media is making her seem like a student with no prior problems. She broke the rules plain and simple deal with the punishment and move on and stop making this bigger than it is. Take this from people who ACTUALLY KNOW HER.