SPOTSYLVANIA, Va.—The Circuit Court of the County of Spotsylvania has refused to reverse the expulsion of a 14-year-old honor student charged under a school zero tolerance policy with “violent criminal conduct” and possession of a weapon for shooting plastic “spitwads” at classmates. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had petitioned the court to intervene on behalf of Andrew Mikel, a freshman at Spotsylvania High School, who was expelled for the remainder of the school year for allegedly using the body of a pen to blow small, hollow plastic balls akin to spitwads at fellow students. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement for criminal prosecution. Mikel has been homeschooled since the incident occurred in December 2010. Institute attorneys have offered their assistance to the Mikel family should they choose to appeal the court’s ruling.
“We’re greatly disappointed by this ruling, which does not in any way see justice served,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Andrew Mikel is merely the latest in a long line of victims of school zero tolerance policies whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators lacking in both common sense and compassion.”
On December 10, 2010, ninth grader Andrew Mikel, a student at Spotsylvania High School, was sent to the principal’s office after shooting a handful of small, hollow pellets akin to plastic spitwads at fellow students in the school hallway during lunch period. Mikel, an honor student active in Junior ROTC and in his church, was initially suspended for 10 days and charged with criminal assault and possession of a weapon under the school’s Student Code of Conduct. The Spotsylvania County School Board later voted to expel Mikel for the remainder of the school year, allegedly on the recommendation of the school’s assistant principal. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement, which initiated juvenile criminal proceedings for assault, resulting in Mikel being placed in a diversion program, as well as having to take substance abuse and anger management counseling.
Decrying the school’s actions as arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed a legal petition with the Circuit Court of the County of Spotsylvania asking the court to overturn the School Board’s decision. Institute attorneys also challenged the school’s characterization of Mikel’s actions as “criminal” and the spitwads as “weapons,” contending that there was no indication that Mikel intended to harm anyone and the plastic tube and pellets did not rise to the level of “weapons” as defined by the school code. Furthermore, Institute attorneys insist that Mikel’s conduct did not rise to the level required for expulsion or long-term suspension under the Student Code of Conduct. As a result of the criminal charges, Mikel, who had hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy following graduation from high school, can no longer be considered as an applicant.
Mikel’s father, a former Navy Seabee and Marine officer, who was awarded a meritorious service medal for solving the problem of “brown-out” for helicopters in Iraq (the sand caused static electricity that interfered with instruments during landing), credits his son with inspiring the solution. “I fought for my country and the rights of people here, and my family sacrificed right along with me,” stated Mikel Sr. “The actions of the school system are completely inconsistent with what I fought for.”
Nisha N. Mohammed is the press contact for the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization which provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.
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