JROTC cadet Andrew Mikel
A circuit court judge tomorrow will hear the case of a Spotsylvania, Va., high school freshman who was suspended for the school year and ordered to a “diversion program” by police for what his father says amounts to blowing “spit wads.”
Fourteen-year-old Andrew Mikel II was originally suspended for 10 days in December for blowing soft plastic pellets – it’s disputed whether it was through a metal tube or merely an empty pen – at his classmates. Two weeks later, Spotsylvania High School Superintendent Jerry Hill suspended him for the remainder of the year.
“In early December, my son shot what amounts to a spit wad,” wrote Mikel’s father, also named Andrew. “They classified the spit wad as a weapon, expelled my son from school the rest of the year, filed assault charges on him with the sheriff’s department, mandated that he take ‘substance-abuse counseling’ and ‘anger-management counseling’ and must do 24 hours of community service.”
Now the elder Mikel, a former Navy Seabee and Marine officer, says his son, who has been active in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, has lost any hope of attending the U.S. Naval Academy as he had dreamed.
“He’s been told his chances of Annapolis were gone because of this,” said Mikel’s father. “We are talking with Virginia Military Institute still.”
“I don’t know how kids survive in schools nowadays,” said John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, which provides free legal assistance to people whose constitutional rights have been violated and which sued the School Board on Mikel’s behalf, seeking his immediate reinstatement to school and an expunging of all records related to the suspension. “They’re charging kids with all kinds of wacky things. A kid gets busted for having a Magic Marker in his pocket as a weapon.”
He continued, “We’ve been fighting zero-tolerance cases since the mid-1990’s, and it’s getting worse. There’s a very dangerous, monolithic mindset, there’s no freedom in schools.”
Whitehead characterized school zero-tolerance policies as “so uniform, so politically correct, so oppressive.”
“The school board feels that they gave the child and his father a fair hearing and handled the situation appropriately,” said Mark Cole, a Spotsylvania delegate to the Virginia general assembly. He intervened with the school board and sheriff’s department on the boy’s behalf. “They said that if the child hit someone in the eye it could have damaged their eye. They suspended the child for the rest of the school year, which I think is excessive.”
Andrew’s grandfather, Jim Mikel, contends the hearing was anything but fair because of the testimony provided by Lisa Andruss, the Spotsylvania High School assistant principal:
“After a brief introduction, Ms. Andruss began a systemized, vicious attack on my grandson,” wrote Mikel. “She made no pretense of being evenhanded or fair. She not only presented statements and evidence, but made it clear that she wanted my grandson expelled, and also wanted criminal punishment to the fullest extent of the law. She cited the school’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy as her guideline. She produced tiny foam-like balls, and a long metallic-looking tube, which she stated they ‘found in the vicinity’ sometime after the events. I asked Andrew quietly if he had used this tube to shoot the plastic balls, and he said he had never seen it before. I was under the impression that the sheriff had confiscated the actual device used, part of a ball point pen, which he had.”
Spotsylvania High School’s principal and Spotsylvania school administrators did not respond to WND’s requests for comment.
“I think the core problem here is that teachers’ hands have been tied when it comes to maintaining classroom discipline,” said Cole. “In the ‘old days’ if a kid had done something like this he might have been paddled or perhaps suspended for a few days and the incident would have been over. Today, school boards adopt zero-tolerance policies and seem to lose common sense or perspective. Instead of handling something like this with some reasonable disciplinary action, they call a deputy and have the child arrested.”
A letter from the school announcing the suspension also described Mikel’s alleged crime, claiming he had “assaulted” three student and had been in possession of “projectiles and [a] device to propel projectiles, which are violations of Student Code of Conduct section B, article 3, item b … and item g.”
Section B, article 3 of Spotsylvania County’s Student Code of Conduct addresses “violent criminal conduct.”
Item “b” reads: “killing, shooting, stabbing, cutting, wounding, otherwise physically injuring or battering any person;”
Item “g” reads, in part: “Any type of weapon, or object used to intimidate, threaten or harm others, any
explosive device or any dangerous article(s) shall subject the student to a recommendation of expulsion.”
“Weapon” includes: “any pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, pellet pistol or rifle, B-B gun or
air rifle, starter gun, crossbow or any device capable of firing a missile or projectile.”
Dangerous weapon? Spotsylvania County’s photo of the pen and pellets confiscated from Andrew Mikel
Mikel’s father described the “weapon” in detail: “He took a plastic pen apart and shot little balls through the body of the pen. The balls are solid, soft plastic, less than a quarter inch in diameter. They’re very light, they weigh one fifth of a gram. You’re lucky if you can get them about four to six feet using a pen to blow them.
“My son realizes what he did was foolish. He knows he shouldn’t have done that,” Mikel’s father said. “It wasn’t appropriate, it was horseplay. Some punishment should have occurred, but they went overboard about it. If they gave him a couple of days detention I would understand, but to classify him as a violent criminal bringing weapons to school and using them to harm kids, it’s just ridiculous.”
“This whole thing is based on a pen being a weapon, and this was a premeditated attempt to harm someone,” the father told WND. “To the school, a weapon is anything that can fire a projectile. They gave Andrew the same punishment as somebody who brought a rifle or crossbow to school.
“In this day and age, when a kid shoots a spitball, we have four state agencies involved, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Commonwealth Attorney, the sheriff’s department and the school administration,” he observed. “That doesn’t seem like a very good use of taxpayer money, not to mention the injustice being perpetuated.”
Since his suspension, the Mikel family has homeschooled Andrew.
According to the Fredricksburg, Va., Free Lance-Star, both sides of the dispute will present their arguments before the court, and Andrew and his father are expected to testify.
The judge is expected to review the administrative steps taken by school board, then, according to Section 22.1-87 of the Code of Virginia, he will uphold the board’s action unless he finds that the board “exceeded its authority, acted arbitrarily or capriciously, or abused its discretion.”