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H-F student’s family: Pedicure tool doesn’t merit 9-day suspension

Ricky Dunn sophomore Homewood-Flossmoor High School was suspended for nine days for having whschool officials described as knife.

Ricky Dunn, a sophomore at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, was suspended for nine days for having what school officials described as a knife. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

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SCHOOL WEAPONS POLICIES

A sample of policies and definitions of weapons at some other Southland school districts:

Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210

A student who uses, possesses, controls, or transfers a weapon, or any object that can reasonably be considered, or looks like, a weapon, shall be expelled for at least one calendar year, but no more than two calendar years. The superintendent may modify the expulsion period and the board may modify the superintendent’s determination, on a case-by-case basis. A “weapon” means possession, use, control, or transfer of (1) any gun, rifle, shotgun, a weapon as defined by Section 921 of Title 18, United States Code, firearm as defined in Section 1.1 of the Firearm Owners Identification Act, or use of a weapon as defined in Section 24-1 of the Criminal Code, (2) any other object if used or attempted to be used to cause bodily harm, including but not limited to, knives, brass knuckles, billy clubs, or (3) “look-alikes” of any weapon as defined above. Any item, such as a baseball bat, pipe, bottle, lock, stick, pencil and pen, is considered to be a weapon if used or attempted to be used to cause bodily harm. The superintendent or designee may grant an exception to this policy, upon the prior request of an adult supervisor, for students in theatre, cooking, ROTC, martial arts and similar programs, whether or not school-sponsored, provided the item is not equipped, nor intended, to do bodily harm. Once an item is confiscated by school officials, it will not be returned to the student.

Consolidated High School District 230

The grounds for disciplinary action apply whenever the student’s conduct is reasonably related to school or school activities, including but not limited to:

Weapons (School Code S/10-22.6(d))

Possession, use, control or transfer of any gun, rifle, shotgun or any other item if used, or attempted to be used, to cause bodily harm, including, but not limited to, knives, brass knuckles, billy clubs, “look-alikes” of any weapon described.

Prohibited Student Conduct (7:190)

The school administration is authorized to discipline students for gross disobedience or misconduct, including but not limited to:

4. Using, possessing, controlling, or transferring a “weapon” as that term is defined in the Weapons section of this policy, or violating the Weapons section of this policy.

Weapons

A student who is determined to have brought one of the following objects to school, any school-sponsored activity or event, or any activity or event that bears a reasonable relationship to school shall be expelled for a period of at least one calendar year but not more than two calendar years:

1. A firearm, meaning any gun, rifle, shotgun, or weapon as defined by Section 921 of Title 18 of the United States Code, firearm as defined in Section 1.1 of the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act, or firearm as defined in Section 24-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961.

2. A knife, brass knuckles, or other knuckle weapon regardless of its composition, a billy club, or any other object if used or attempted to be used to cause bodily harm, including “look-alikes” of any firearm as defined above. The expulsion requirement under either paragraph 1 or 2 above may be modified by the superintendent, and the superintendent’s determination may be modified by the Board on a case-by-case basis.

Bremen Community High School District 228

Weapons Possession — Possession, Use or Threatened Use of Weapons, Combustibles, Explosives, and Look-alikes or Other Dangerous objects, including Disabling or Protective Devices — Firearms, look-alike weapons, ammunition, knives, objects used as weapons, chemicals, chemical sprays, fireworks and laser devices are some of the dangerous objects prohibited regardless of intended use. Weapons and other dangerous objects will be turned over to local police and parents will be notified. Students involved in weapons violations or threatening to use weapons will be suspended and/or expelled.

Source: District websites

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Updated: February 11, 2012 8:09AM



Ricky Dunn is an honors student at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.

After his freshman year, he was ranked in the top 100 in a class of nearly 700 students. As a sophomore, his classes include trigonometry, honors chemistry and honors French. He runs track, plays soccer, is a member of the art honor society, and his teachers have referred to him on his online grade report as having “superior maturity.”

But Ricky Dunn also is a subject of controversy, because the sharp student brought a sharp object to school late last semester, admitted it and was suspended for it.

Dunn and his family say the object is a pedicure tool. The school calls it a “Swiss Army-type knife” and said possessing it on school grounds violated Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School District 233’s weapons policy.

What’s not in dispute is that Dunn served a nine-day suspension, and that his family thinks the policy is vague and overreaching and the punishment went much too far.

‘Weapon’ or ‘tool’?

The tool in question includes a fold-out blade that measures between 1 1/4 inches and 1 1/2 inches in length. The sharp side used for slicing a callus off a foot meets a rounded edge, with the point being like that of some safety scissors.

Dunn, 15, kept the tool on a lanyard along with his house keys. In late November, Dunn said, he lost the lanyard in his French class. He asked for it the next day, but his teacher had sent it to the lost and found.

When Dunn went to claim it, the dean, Brian McLaughlin, asked whether the tool was his as well.

When Dunn said it was, McLaughlin suspended him.

An “out of school suspension” notice dated Nov. 22 said Dunn would be suspended for nine school days, from Nov. 23 to Dec. 7, for “gross misconduct/gross disobedience, specifically, possession of weapon Swiss Army type knife 1 1/2 inches.”

According to the district’s student handbook, students can be suspended at the discretion of a dean, assistant principal or principal, “as a result of acts of gross disobedience and/or gross misconduct including ... possession, use, distribution or sale of dangerous weapons, or items used as a weapon, and/or look-a-like weapons (e.g. BB guns, pellet guns, water guns, etc.), explosives, or fireworks.”

Dunn’s father, LaNel Palmer, argued to school officials that there was no gross misconduct and that the object wasn’t a knife at all, but a “foot tool.” Dunn got it from a manicure kit he was given when he graduated from Parker Junior High School.

Palmer equated the blade part to an exacto knife used in art classes, which also could be dangerous if wielded as a weapon.

Dunn wasn’t wielding the object at all; it was simply attached to his lanyard.

“If his behavior is gross, I’m wondering what gross behavior is?” said Palmer, a guard at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet for 22 years. “Their job is to protect the school and protect the students in the school, but what was he doing to endanger anyone?”

Dunn said he brought the instrument to school because it also contained a flathead screwdriver used to open his iPhone case.

Appeal denied

Dunn was stunned when he learned of his suspension, but of greater concern to him was what it might mean for his future education. He is considering psychology as a career.

“I was terrified,” Dunn said. “I was worried about college. I’d like to receive a scholarship, and if this is on my record. ... I don’t know. I’ve never been in that kind of trouble before.”

Palmer pleaded with district officials to consider his son’s track record, both academically and for his participation level in extracurricular activities.

“It’s a child who didn’t deserve a nine-day suspension,” Palmer said. “For a child doing what he’s supposed to be doing, there should be a reward for good behavior.”

LaNel and Cathi Palmer challenged the suspension, and district appeals officer Jeffrey P. Litman heard their argument on Dec. 8.

LaNel Palmer said the district had given Litman a blown-up photocopy of the tool, nearly double in size, making the blade appear more fearsome than it is. The Palmers found out last week Litman upheld the suspension.

Although Dunn has served his punishment, the Palmers hope district officials have a change of heart and strike the suspension from his record.

“They gave him the whole boat for nothing,” LaNel Palmer said.

He said the family is not considering legal action at this point.

“We’ll try to uncover a few more avenues,” he said.

District spokeswoman Jodi Bryant declined to comment specifically on Dunn’s case but said the rules are implemented “fairly across the board.”

“From parents’ perspective, it is upsetting to a have a child disciplined,” Bryant said. “There are things we have to do to ensure school is safe for all students.”

But Palmer is convinced the school should have known safety wasn’t a concern given all the circumstances.

“They worked harder to get him out of school instead of trying to resolve the issue,” he said.



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