A Fox Chapel Area High School student will only serve a 10-day suspension and not face possible expulsion for turning in to security a knife he accidentally brought to a school football game, the student's attorney said today.
David Schaffner III, a 16-year-old junior, had hoped to have his suspension vacated and erased from his permanent academic record after the school district invoked a state law to suspend him after the incident Sept. 13.
His attorney had made the case that David was being harshly punished for doing the right thing. But the school district said it needed to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy for everyone's safety.
The agreement reached today between the school district and the student's family means that while David won't get his suspension vacated, he won't face the possibility of being kicked out of school for the rest of the year, as allowed by law, said attorney Phil DiLucente.
"I wouldn't say he's happy with a 10-day suspension," Mr. DiLucente said. "But he's certainly happy with not facing an expulsion hearing."
Mr. DiLucente could not say whether school officials agreed to remove the suspension from David's permanent record.
The incident occurred during a Friday night home football game on Sept. 13 when David realized that he had forgotten to remove a hunting knife he had in his jacket pocket. He had been using the knife to help clear a wooded area near his home.
When he realized he had the knife in his pocket as he approached the school's stadium gate, he took the knife out and gave it to a security guard, who allowed David to enter the game.
Several minutes later, the high school principal, Michael Hower, came into the stands and told David he had to leave the game.
At a meeting Monday with David and his parents, school officials said their zero-tolerance policy required David to be suspended for 10 days for bringing a weapon onto school property.
In addition, school policy and state law call for students who bring weapons onto school property or to school events to be expelled for a year. But both allow for superintendents to make exceptions to the expulsion provision.
Mr. DiLucente had asked that an exception be made for David for trying to be honest.
But the district said in a statement earlier this week: "When there is a weapon on school property, we must follow the steps that are required by law. This is a responsibility we have to our community, students and staff."
In a statement today about the agreement, the school district would only say that during the meeting, "a resolution agreeable to both parties was reached. The outcome of the meeting is confidential, but all parties felt that, under Pennsylvania law, the agreement was fair and took all circumstances into account."
Mr. DiLucente said while this case is resolved, he intends to contact state legislators to change state law to allow leniency for cases such as David's.
"A zero-tolerance policy is a very flawed policy because it does not give enough discretion to administrators and faculty," he said.
"If someone willingly comes forth with a type of weapon and turns it in, you shouldn't be treated like you were caught with it," he said. "If, in fact, you're caught with it, or you use it, those are different circumstances.
"The legislature has to get involved in this," he said.
Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2579.