Honor student won't be allowed to return to school

Ashley Smithwick

December 31, 2010 9:49:30 AM PST
A 17-year-old honor student won't be allowed back on her school campus after an emergency meeting of the Lee County Board of Education Friday.

Southern Lee High School senior Ashley Smithwick told ABC11 she was kicked off campus for the rest of the school year because of a mix-up with her lunch box.

In October, the teen mistakenly took her father's lunch container -- that's identical to hers -- to school. Her dad's container had a three-inch paring knife inside.

"And I had just grabbed my dad's lunch box," Smithwick said. "I didn't mean to. I really didn't. I just grabbed it and went out the door."

School leaders say during that day a faculty member discovered a student with marijuana on campus and Smithwick's paring knife was found during a random search.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss says the knife was found in Smithwick's purse, not her lunchbox. He told ABC11 Friday that Lee County - like the other 115 school districts in North Carolina - has a zero tolerance policy for weapons on campus.

"Every weapon and weapon like instrument is investigated. A decision is made based upon that investigation as to consequence would be for bring that kind of item on our campus," he said.

Smithwick was initially suspended for 10 days. Her family says then administrators told her in lieu of long-term suspension, she would be given an opportunity to complete the one course she needs to graduate online.

The family says she's not allowed on campus and won't walk across the stage during graduation. Her family is devastated.

"I wanted her back on campus," Smithwick's mother Heidi Smithwick said. "I wanted her to have her senior year. I wanted her to be able to play the sports she has played her entire life. And I wanted her to walk that stage with her classmates."

While Smithwick can't return to campus, Superintendent Moss apparently doesn't view that as a suspension.

In an email sent to ABC11 this week, he refers to Smithwick's "alleged" long-term suspension and said "facts recited by the media are erroneous and without foundation."

"Miss Smithwick has not been long-term suspended from Southern Lee High School. She is currently enrolled as a student at the school. Over two months after the event it is a mystery to us that the Smithwick's concerns were not brought to our attention by the family through normal appeal procedures prior to going to the press," said Moss.

After an emergency meeting of the Lee County Board of Education Friday, Moss said he couldn't discuss the specifics of Smithwick's case because of privacy laws, but again reiterated that media coverage of the situation is somehow incorrect.

He also said Smithwick's punishment won't change.

"The Board, however, contends strenuously that the related television and newspaper articles are inaccurate and all relevant laws and board policies were adhered to and followed," he said.

A school board member also told ABC11 that Smithwick could have been expelled over the incident, and had she turned the knife over to a teacher when she discovered she had it, then her punishment would likely have been less severe.

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