Addressing the school board members during their July meeting, Greeneville attorney Joseph McAfee spoke on behalf of the student’s parents, James and Lorraine Austin.
McAfee asked them to consider lessening the suspension handed to the student by the district’s disciplinary board, which ruled the student and others implicated in the incident should attend the system’s alternative learning program for half the school year before being reconsidered for admittance to Boone.
“However dangerous fireworks may be, I just want to illustrate to the board that there are many things that are common in schools that under this definition could fall under the category of a weapon, such as an automobile, a shoe string and pens and pencils,” McAfee said, questioning the malicious intent of the student. “Under the technical viewing, any of these other items which are commonly found in schools could be designated a weapon.”
On April 30, Washington County authorities, including the Sheriff’s Office’s tactical response team, were dispatched to the high school after sounds resembling gunfire were reported in the school’s parking lot.
Three students were charged with disorderly conduct and possession of weapons on school grounds when police discovered the reported explosions were fireworks set off under vehicles, a frustrating relief for the officers.
McAfee said the weapons possession charge was dropped for the Austins’ son when prosecutors agreed fireworks did not meet the legal definition of a weapon.
But county Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the pyrotechnics still met the district’s definition of weapons, and noted the student could have been punished more severely.
“Fireworks can be considered weapons of destruction, and certainly throwing them under automobiles have the potential to have ruptured fuel tanks, could have resulted in extensive damage or threat to life and limb,” he said. “Fireworks often sound like gunfire, and in fact, the Sheriff’s Office was so alarmed by the sound that they dispatched the SWAT team. It should be obvious in today’s climate of the tragedy of school shootings why this was taken so seriously.”
The incident fell under the school system’s zero-tolerance policy and could have resulted in immediate expulsion, he added.
“In my opinion, we offered considerable significant consideration for the students to be able to continue their education without additional hardship on them or their parents,” Dykes said.
The board members listened to the attorney’s request, but took no action, leaving the punishment to stand.
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