RECTOR, Penn. – Parents of a 10-year-old student in Pennsylvania are suing their daughter’s former private school after officials expelled the girl for carrying a 1 ¼ inch blade to an orchestra concert to trim her violin strings.
Brian and Jennifer Cunkelman received a letter this summer informing them that their daughter is no longer welcome at the Valley School of Ligonier she attended last year. School officials contend the tiny knife the girl brought to a May school orchestra concert violated the state’s Safe Schools Act, which imposes a zero-tolerance policy on students who bring “weapons” to school, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
The private school allowed Abbigail Cunkelman to finish the school year, but the Cunkelmans argue in court records that the nonsensical expulsion left a “defamatory stigma” in her record that continues to cause issues with enrolling in the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
It’s unclear whether Cunkelman was denied enrollment, or how exactly the May incident impacted her enrollment in the Blairsville-Saltsburg school district.
“If a student is expelled because of a weapon or drugs being brought onto school property, we’re obligated to follow the same expulsion that was carried out by the previous district,” Blairsville-Saltsburg Superintendent Tammy Whitfield told the Tribune-Review.
But Education Law Center director Deborah Gordan Klehr said new schools are not required to ban expelled students. She told the Tribune-Review new schools can accept students expelled by other schools, though those students can be assigned to an alternative school for disruptive students.
“We have concerns about the use of zero-tolerance laws because it doesn’t allow for common sense or direction,” she said, adding that weapons suspensions under the Safe School Act can carry a year expulsion sentence.
In their lawsuit, the Cunkelmans asks a Westmoreland County court to reverse the school’s expulsion.
Numerous parents were outraged by the situation, and sounded off online.
“I have one of these so called knives with a 1 ¼-inch blade,” Joe Freeman posted to Facebook. “To call this item a weapon is beyond ridiculous.”
“This is so wrong,” David Coffman wrote. “She gets hassled over this, and I bet the four teenagers who roughed up and robbed a 96-year-old lady in Pittsburgh weren’t suspended, or disciplined by the school.”
Others pleaded for the state to inject some common sense into its school discipline laws.
“Common sense has to prevail at some point … this kind of thing just can’t continue,” Rich Croce wrote. “People, use your heads for crying out loud.”
“Idiots teaching our children,” Dave Baker added. “’Zero tolerance’ equals not having the guts to make a common sense decision.”