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
(d) It shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any BB gun, stun gun, air rifle, air pistol, bowie knife, dirk, dagger, slungshot, leaded cane, switchblade knife, blackjack, metallic knuckles, razors and razor blades (except solely for personal shaving), firework, or any sharp‑pointed or edged instrument except instructional supplies, unaltered nail files and clips and tools used solely for preparation of food, instruction, and maintenance, on educational property.
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.