Toolbox Tuesday: Oops!! There’s a knife in my pocket!

A boy who was on the autism spectrum brought a knife to school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 9, 2015.  A teacher found the knife in the pocket of his jacket after the metal detector beeped as he walked through.  The boy had used the knife at a camp with his dad the day before and forgot that it was still in his pocket.  No one in the school doubted that explanation.  Furthermore, the IEP Team concluded that his autism caused him to be forgetful about this.

You got that?  It was an accident. And it was a manifestation of his disability.  The kid had not been disciplined in his previous seven years in the district. He was not a problem child.  Surely there will be no punishment for this.

But there was, and the Pennsylvania hearing officer was OK with that.  The hearing officer pointed out that this was a “special circumstances” offense.  The school was authorized to send the student to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting for up to 45 school days even though the behavior was a manifestation of disability. That’s what the principal did.

The hearing officer pointed out that the “special circumstance” offense regarding drug possession requires proof of “knowing” possession. But possession of a weapon is a “special circumstance” offense even when it is done accidentally, with no intent or knowledge. Key Quote:

I am compelled to agree [with the district] that the fact that Student did not intend to bring the weapon to school is immaterial, because the applicable provision contains no requirement of intent.

That may be so in Pennsylvania, but not here. We have a state law that requires campus behavior coordinators to always take “intent” into account.  It’s at T.E.C. 37.001(a)(4) which requires that your Code of Conduct must call for “consideration” of four factors prior to the imposition of suspension, expulsion or DAEP removal. One of the four factors is “intent or lack of intent at the time the student engaged in the conduct.”  T.E.C. 37.001(a)(4)(B).

This Pennsylvania case is a good illustration of what we call Tool #5—Removal due to Special Circumstances.  That’s just one of the ten “tools” we talk about in the Toolbox Training. Interested?  Let me hear from you.

This obscure case is at 115 LRP 17342 and was decided by a Pennsylvania hearing officer on March 21, 2015.


Tomorrow: was it because she is transgender?