Leading Fluco thrown out of school over toy

An airsoft gun, a popular sport toy for teens and pre-teens (and less powerful than a BB gun), has apparently run afoul of "zero-tolerance" weapon rules and ended the high school career of Justin Sexton, a Fluvanna County High School senior (who was the school's homecoming king). The Central Virginian broke the story Wednesday, and the Newsplex picked it up Thursday.

–updated 9:15am: a prior version of this story credited the wrong news organization with breaking the story


Zero Tolerance means zero tolerance when it is convenient for the school system.

The kid that stabbed my elementary child in the hand with a pocket knife wasn't even suspended. They told me they didn't feel it was serious enough and that if I didn't like it go to the school board.

The fact is the kid that did it is a minority and 'learning disabled' so she gets a pass.

I saw something some years back about a school system that had done away with recess to have morfe instructional time. Maybe they decided it was not such a good idea after all-but yes the issue did come up. Proposals like that do not come as a surprise anymore, with all the emphasis on test scores instead of actual learning.

Two things - If you were a cop, do you really think you have time to think, "Is that a REAL gun? or is it a toy?" - the answer is probably not. However I think the policy is overly harsh. Perhaps they need two policies - one for REAL weapons that is this harsh, and one for "toys" that are a mistake - which can still a punishment but perhaps not a life changing career ending nightmare. I guess I say "make the punishment match the crime". I think Fluco's policy is poorly written. It only addresses one type of item, it doesn't allow for any ability to address specific instances. It lumps everyone into one general classification. Even our community laws have different degrees of punishment for different degrees of crime.

Even if it is agreed he broke a rule, expulsion is far out of proportion to the offense.On the other hand I have heard of even more ridiculous incidents-where the "weapon" involved was something like a nail file.
Almost anything can be used as a weapon- how about a sharpened pencil, or picking up a chair and hitting someone on the head?The weapons rule should apply only to those items that are defined as weapons-firearms,knives, explosives,etc., not toys or personal grooming effects.
Same policy for drugs-illegal substances and legal ones whether prescription or over the counter should not be lumped together. One is a police matter, the other handled by commonsense school rules.
I recall some years ago when I was substitute teaching at a local high school and had a bad headache, one of my students was so kind as to give me some tylenol. Nowadays we would both probably be on death row!
I have read in hunting magazines where years ago it was not uncommon for students to take their guns to school, leave them in the principal's office or a locked vehicle, in order to go hunting after school. No one though anything. Now you hear of someone being charged with a felony for forgetting that they had an unloaded gun locked in the trunk when they went on school grounds.
Common sense is totally in short supply between the CYA crowd and the paranoid safety freaks. I hope this young man can successfully sue the school system.

Was the student arrogantly breaking the rules, or did he innopcently have in his possesion the airsoft gun for use outside of the school later, and had no idea he was in violation of any rules? We don't know.

What aboout the teachers and other staff? Have any of them had pills with them? Have had a hangover? Have any of them broken any rule and it was allowed, tolerated?

If a teacher were fired for a violation, he or she would be hired at another school. For a student, it's one mistake and your life is ruined. A God-like power of a teacher over another's future.

I agree with speedbump's comments about the CNN phenomina of everything being made into huge issues. We live in a very altered world.

He was admitted back to school after a March 4 school board meeting.

This boy probably forgot the dumb thing was even in his truck. I don't see where the principal had any right to search his truck because he saw tobacco in it. Maybe I'm wrong.
I hope this young man wins his appeal. It appears he is highly intelligent and has already been excepted in college. Why ruin his future over a toy? And why such a harsh punishment?
I can almost bet that if they were to do a desk, pocket, and purse search on the teachers they would find far worse. I'm willing to bet that a teacher may be concealing a cigarette lighter in her purse. Maybe she was going to burn down the school? A teacher may have a condom in his wallet. Maybe he was going to have sex with a student? A secretary may have a bottle of pills in her desk. Maybe she was going to sell them to the highest bidder? A janitor may have a shovel in his closet. Maybe he was going to bury someone on the football field?


I guess we can add Justin Sexton's name to the growing list of school kids (even honor students and homecoming kings) being treated like terrorists under the "zero tolerance" policies of school districts.

This week, the FBI announced it was launching an investigation into a surveillance scandal out of Lower Merion County, Pennsylvania, where it was recently discovered that school officials had used Web cams on school-issued laptops to spy on a student, 15-year-old Blake Robbins.

Robbins was falsely accused of possessing illicit drugs after the vice principal at his high school, Lindy Matskhis, called him into a meeting where she revealed that she had seen images of him at home through his laptop. According to Robbins' attorney, Mark Haltzman, "She called him into the office and told him, basically, 'I've been watching what was on the Web cam and saw what was in your hands. I've been reading what you've been typing, and I'm afraid you are involved in drugs and trying to sell pills.'"

Matskhis, it turned out, was grievously mistaken. What looked like pills turned out to be Mike and Ike candies.

Robbins' parents sued. Now the case has prompted a debate about student privacy and the threat of technological overreach.

The Robbins case may seem to be uniquely bad in some ways. But it comes at a time when there's no shortage of disturbing stories in the news about the intrusive and repressive measures taken by public schools against students, in districts across the country. Last year the Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of Savana Redding (now an adult, who, at the age of 13, was strip-searched by school staff in search of prescription ibuprofen); yet from violations of privacy to wrongful arrests by school "peace" officers, the story seems to be expanding.

On February 1, in Forest Hills, Queens, 12-year-old Alexa Gonzalez was arrested after she was caught doodling on her desk. Profanity? Threats against her teacher? No, the middle school student had written, with an erasable marker, "I love my friends Abby and Faith," along with "Lex was here. 2/1/10" and a smiley face, according to the New York Daily News.

This, apparently, was a criminal act in the eyes of her teacher. She called school security -- New York police officers -- who promptly cuffed her and hauled her across the street, to the local precinct,

"I started crying, like, a lot," Alexa told the Daily News. "I made two little doodles. It could be easily erased. To put handcuffs on me is unnecessary."

Nevertheless, in addition to being handcuffed and held at the police station, Alexa was also suspended and "assigned eight hours of community service, a book report and an essay on what she learned from the experience."

Alexa's suspension was eventually lifted. But she still missed three days in school, days she spent "throwing up," according to her mother, Moraima Tamacho.

Tamacho and her daughter have an attorney, who says they will sue the NYPD for violating Alexa's constitutional rights.

Punished for Refusing to Pledge Alliegance

Meanwhile, mere days before Alexa's arrest, in Montgomery Country, Maryland, a 13-year-old student at Roberto Clemente Middle School was escorted out of school by police after she refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance two days in a row. According to the ACLU, which is representing the student (she remains anonymous), the trouble started on January 27, when the seventh grader "chose neither to stand nor to speak during the school s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance."

"Instead, she sat quietly while students recited the Pledge."

Her teacher was not okay with this. He ordered her to stand up; when she refused, he threatened her with detention and sent her to the school counselor's office, where she spent the rest of the period.

The next day, the same conflict broke out. This time, the teacher called in a pair of "school resource officers" -- in-school Maryland police -- to take care of the situation.

The officers didn't arrest the student, escorting her to the counselor's office rather than a police station. Nonetheless, like Alexa Gonzalez, the experience of being marched out of class in front of her classmates proved harrowing.

"As these events occurred in front of the entire class, they caused her great embarrassment and humiliation," her ACLU lawyer wrote in a letter to the school on February 4. "Indeed, since these events, [the student] has been too humiliated to return to school, and has been advised by a psychologist that due to the distress she is experiencing, she should not return for an extended period."

While initially, the teacher and assistant principal refused to acknowledge the violation of the student's rights -- Assistant Principal James Richard countered that the student owed her teacher an apology for her "defiance" -- this week the Washington Post reported that the teacher will have to apologize to the student.

School spokesperson Dana Tofig told the Post that the teacher had violated school policy, which is based on Maryland law.

"The policy is very, very clearly stated," Tofig said. "Our teachers are expected to know the students' rights and responsibilities....A mistake has been made, and it will be rectified."

Zero Tolerance?

Like ongoing reports of students being tasered by police officers on school grounds, it is not uncommon to hear school administrators in the news expressing some regret at a disciplinary action gone too far. These episodes are treated as isolated incidents in an otherwise sound system. But a recent CNN report suggests that stories like these indicate a trend, with critics of "zero-tolerance" policies raising concerns that attempts to keep students disciplined and safe might be doing more harm than good.

"Critics say schools and police have gone too far, overreacting and using well-intended rules for incidents involving nonviolent offenses such as drawing on desks, writing on other school property or talking back to teachers," CNN reported.

"We are arresting them at younger and younger ages [in cases] that used to be covered with a trip to the principal's office, not sending children to jail," said Emma Jordan-Simpson, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund, a national children's advocacy group.
This would certainly apply in the Alexa Gonzalez case. How many more cases are out there like hers isn't entirely clear. (Reports CNN: "There aren't any national studies documenting how often minors become involved with police for nonviolent crimes in schools. Tracking the incidents depends on how individual schools keep records. Much of the information remains private, since it involves juveniles.") But in New York City alone, the problems stemming from an increased police presence in schools have been enough for the New York Civil Liberties Union to produce a number of reports with titles like "Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools."

In 2007, the NYCLU produced an educational card for students called "Know Your Rights with Police in Schools." That was the year 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser was arrested for writing "okay" on her desk at a middle school in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.

"It was really embarrassing because some of the kids, they talk, and they're going to label me as a bad kid. But I'm really not," Fraser told local media at the time. "I didn't know writing 'okay' would get me arrested."

Needless to say, Fraser's case bears an eerie similarity to the Gonzalez case. ("My daughter just wrote something on a desk. I would have her scrub it with Soft Scrub on a Saturday morning when she should be out playing, and maybe a day of in-house and a formal apology to the principal," her mother said.)

In a new report last year examining the consequences of giving the mayor's office more control over city schools, the NYCLU zeroed in on the problem of police officers in schools, writing: "The NYPD plays a unique and expansive role in the city s education system."

At the same time that the number of police personnel in the schools has increased to a whopping 5,200 agents, the ability of educators to oversee school safety and student discipline has decreased. Principals complain that they are unable to control the conduct of School Safety Agents and are limited in their ability to strike the right balance between school security and a supportive educational environment.

New York is not alone in trying to strike this balance. In (highly suburban) Montgomery County, Maryland, concerns over local gang activity have led to an influx of police officers in schools -- the same officers who assisted the teacher in denying his student the right to remain seated during the pledge of allegiance.

Local anti-gang tasks forces have recommended that the number of in-school police officers -- "Educational Facility Officers" or "School Resource Officers -- increase, "extending the program into all high schools and middle schools," according to one report.

It might seem logical given the real dangers posed by gangs to innocent school children. But as reports like the one out of Queens or Montgomery County prove, putting police officers in schools makes no rational sense if the officers -- or teachers emboldened by their presence -- cannot behave rationally

As Chelsea Fraser's mother told told local media outlets after her daughter's arrest: "Here we have rapists, murderers, and you're taking a 13-year-old kid? Wasting valuable manpower to arrest a child who wrote on a desk?"

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage. Follow her on Twitter.

quote: "zero tolerance on grounds means zero tolerance!"

False. Depends on who is carrying the weapon, in what manner it is being carried, and whether a school is being used at the time for education vs another event or meeting not associated with training , school sponsored sports events, or education.

For example, a Concealed Handgun Permit holder can carry a firearm onto school property at any time as long as it remains in his/her car. (While it is law, it's a stupid law. Suppose a kid broke into the car and stole the handgun?)

Another example, if a school is being held for a political rally or event, anybody can carry a handgun onto the property. Either open carry or concealed carry if they have a permit.

As another tidbit of trivia, my daughter showed me where the Charlottesville City School handbook allows students to carry knives as long as the blade is 3" or shorter. This is plain stupid. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it in writing!

Quoting Harry: I wonder if hands and feet can be considered weapons”Š”Š”Š”Š

Point well made!!

If the student in question studies the martial arts, I would say yes...so is the "zero tolerance" policy going to make him/her leave them at home??

Quoting Gasbag to the 10th Power: The power of mass hysteria to generate injustice is without limit.

Point well made!!!

The power of mass hysteria has created our society as it is today. We have more access to more information faster than ever and it scares the crap out of us to think the world just might not be such a happy safe place. Just to pose a question, how safe did you feel on September 11, 2001 just after those planes hit the twin towers??

The zero tolerance policy is the school system's way of acting out over the IDEA that we as a society don't raise our kids anymore. We are pushing that responsibility to the school system or so they say. Again I will have to take Gasbag's point on mass hysteria...if it happens in BF Egypt, it could happen here...so let's put a RULE in place to give the school system more power over what they feel is their lack of it. I am so glad my children are no longer in the public school system. It's just gotten too hard.

Hollowboy, kids do still have recess. Why muddy up your perfectly good point with hysterial hyperbole like that?

The power of mass hysteria to generate injustice is without limit.
A high school student parking a vehicle with something he's legally allowed to have,locked in the trunk should be left unmolested. I went to high school in the early sixties and some went deer hunting or duck hunting before or after school and we kept our guns in our cars...that's why trunks have locks...
I may not be allowed to bring a shotgun into my favorite bar, but I'm allowed to have it in my car outside. Can I go out to the lot and get it to lie in wait for someone who's offended me? Well, yes I can if I decide it's time to go crazy...We could make society "perfectly safe", or close to it, but our lives would be a misery so what would be the value in that?

The zero tolerance thing has gone over the top. "Zero tolerance" is a concept whose rigors should apply only to very critical things (no alcohol for airline pilots or the guy who's getting ready to do your heart surgery). The idea that an 18 year old student should be punished for giving an aspirin to another student is the sort of thing we should see in a Monty Python moview, but not the real world...

I think this young man has been sorely abused and, if completing high school is important for his future, he really should have cause to sue for damages and I hope he does..

They will do anything they can to get kids in the system. It's an added bonus when they're "likely to succeed". Makes sure they don't. Competition is a sin.

quote: "BTW, airsoft guns have big colorful tips, so cops know they are not lethal."

False. All-American thugs are now painting the tips of real guns orange so as to make cops think twice about shooting. When a cop second guesses whether he should shoot or not, he's dead.

An orange tip means nothing any longer.

zero tolerance= I am too lazy to make a rational judgment and too afraid of being called a racist or politically incorrect to stand behind my own common sense decisinn making process.

Displine is one of the top three reasons a Principal is even there. If they are not allowed to use that skill then lower their pay accordingly.

Stop being afaid to make judgment calls and stand behind them.

If I were a Principal I would be embarrased to be emasculated like that.

Right and wrong needs to be taught as a judgment process using many different factors not just some words that were written on a piece of paper because the School is afraid to stand behind its subjective decisions.

When you raise children in that mindset you get idiots that make stupid decisons (like not plowing snow at roys place) and then shirk responsibility by pointing to the written rules.

"Zero tolerance" is a substitution for common sense and adult judgment. Like the A+ honor student who gets suspended for a Midol in her purse getting the same treatment the F-, semi-dropout useless school felon-to-be found with speed in his pocket. Adults have simply given up on using rational judgment, common sense, and fair play. It is a compassion-less policy that teaches kids they are not allowed to be human and make mistakes. If our court system worked this way, everyone would get the same sentence, no matter is they had a criminal past or no matter what their intent. Zero tolerance has always been bad policy, but the baby boomer generation loves it because they think it removes any "unfairness", when it actually compounds the unfairness. BTW, airsoft guns have big colorful tips, so cops know they are not lethal.

His problem was that he had " tobacco in his truck." He is a user of a product that kills, so he deserves to be put away for awhile.

I thought that in order for a crime to be comitted there needed to be "intent" or motive.

Seems to me that if they applied the same rule everywhere we would have to arrest anybody that gave the cashier a credit card that didn't go through.. no second chances...

or arrest people for felony assult with a deadly weapon for a fender bender.

I would be in favor of instituting that policy at the DMV for rudeness of the workers though.

Writing on a school desk resulting in an arrest? Talk about truth being stranger(and more frightening) than fiction!
In the old days the worst that might have happened to a kid doing that was a few paddle swats. And even more likely being made to clean it off and having to stay in at recess.Oops-kids don't even have recess anymore.
Certainly an argument in favor of home schooling. I hope the ACLU and the parents sue the shirt off of everyone involved, the school adminstration, the police, and the court system.

I dont feel sorry at all.....he knew the rules....he broke them....he deserves the punishment. "zero-tolerance" means "zero-tolerance". From this one stupid mistake hes most likely ruined his entire life. Because of this he could be denied entrance to college.

a while back students on uva grounds filming with an airgun created havoc and left some students traumatized by the incident- swat teams were brought in as a result. Harmless weapon you be the judge! Every weapon is considered a danger. zero tolerance on grounds means zero tolerance! please read the state laws before making judgement on the school administration.
-Gun Toting Fluvanna County Mother.

When a kid sharpens a pencil real sharp and stabs someone... pencils will be contraband... oh yeah, scissors in the art room. Try teaching some common sense while they are in school.

THIS IS AN OUTRAGE. I allow my child Hilda to possess such constructive play equipment. I believe that the education centre should not behave in such a manner as my mischievous child, Hathandra by searching this lad's car. I oughta let them country folk have a piece of my mind for such unfloughantral activities. Such as pertaining to thou such.

I wonder if hands and feet can be considered weapons............

I have known Justin my whole life.

This is Fluvanna County...We used to get out of school for the first day of hunting season.

Everyone knows Justin and he would never do anything to hurt anyone.

He didn't even know the gun was in his truck and it was his father's truck. This is the kind of stuff that can be let go and just say, go HOME!

It seems as though FCPS look for things like this (a few years ago a LM cop saw a gun in a kid's car on the way to school because he was hunting, didn't say anything to the kid, waited for him to get to school, and then called the school to look in his car).


According to the Central Virginian article, the search of his truck, which is what turned up the tobacco and airsoft gun, was prompted by an invalid parking pass. Invalid parking pass? If I parking on UVA grounds with an invalid pass, I'll get a ticket. That doesn't give anyone the right to search my car.

Tobacco, he was 18, and it was in his truck, so it's not like he was smoking in the bathrooms at school. What if his mom had dropped him off and she had a pack of cigarettes in her car?

This isn't a case of a kid bringing his toy gun to school to try to look cool or scare some bullies. He had the gun and the tobacco in his truck, and has said that his friend left the gun in the truck. Even if that's not true, it's easy to see a scenario where he was playing with the gun at a friend's after school (this is Fluvanna, after all), put it in his truck and forgot to take it out.

In the "real world," zero-tolerance is not really all that common except in workplace sexual harassment policies. Even our justice system can distinguish between a stupid mistake and deliberately causing harm.

The sad thing is that we are all the victims of this, and FCPS is only hurting itself. We have a kid who was going to graduate, go to college and would likely have fond memories of his days in high school and share them with others. Now, even if he is able to finish HS and go to college, he'll probably carry some bitterness and resentment of the system that threatened his future, and will pass that on to others.

Zero-tolerance for bad school administrators and teachers. If they make a mistake, we must have zero tolerance and remove them immediately from the classroom and system.

called it!

Guess he'll learn.......sometimes you just have to play by the rules.

If its not an illegal item It shouldn't be in the zero-tolerance rule. The school is making up "laws" of their own.That's not in their power to do.What are they going to do next charge him with a terrorist action because he spoke up. Just wait and see how this pile of dodo rolls down hill and gets bigger.

Even though it was in the back of his truck, he still shouldnt have had it. no "weapons" on school grounds....it was like that when I was in high school ten years ago.

So from what I understand... kid had some sort of tobacco product that was spotted in his truck... assistant principal says something like "if you don't let me search your truck you will get a 10 day suspension" Search finds in the bottom of the tool box an airsoft pistol that couldn't kill anyone unless they inhale the pellet and it gets lodged in the lungs and causes problems. Given a choice of picking a weapon from his truck, I'd take the lug wrench...A pistol with the plastic orange thingy on the end of the muzzle to say it isn't a real gun... that the kid didn't know was in the tool box.

For this, he is suspended for 364 days because to suspend him for a year would give him far more rights. 10 days would be a reasonable punishment that isn't life-changing.

Zero tolerance means a series of really small things can ruin someone's future.

Interesting! Even the lawmakers aren't too concerned about airsoft guns.

SB 580, Senator Marsden, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for someone under the age of 18 to have an airsoft gun that can fire a projectile at over 250 feet-per-second on K-12 school property, DIED
because no one would second a motion to pass the bill!

To quote Mark Twain:
"In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards."

Pre-CNN, folks in Virginia didn't hear about the stabbing at a California school or the kidnapping of the kid in Wisconsin... and Nancey Grace didn't spend every night screaming about it for two weeks until the next scandal/tragedy/celebrity stupidity hit.

Now because of the fear, I get stuck behind a bus on Rt 33 that stops at a driveway, lets off 1 child... drives 150 feet, lets off another child... drives 200 feet and stops a third time to let off a third child. The kids are next door neighbors... 30 cars building up, stopping and starting... if one of those kids had to walk a short distance (that they probably do often anyway) a bad man in a panel van will suddenly appear and grab them...

Not only are we losing more freedom, common sense seems to be taking a backseat as well. I understand the need to have and enforce such laws but also wondering what has happened to society. Just an old coot missing better times!!

Oh whatever. The parents will get a lawyer and the school will cave and let him back in. The school system just wanted to flex muscles here to show that rules are rules. I got suspended for having those little white snap-pop things in my backpack at school at WAHS back in '97. I was informed that the explosives they contained were a danger to everyone's safety and was out for 3 days. I'd hate to be caught with any these days, I'd be brought up on terrorism charges.

Back in my day, spring often brought an influx of water guns into school. I remember one day in 8th grade Mr. Bolyard the assistant principal came into my homeroom and asked everyone who had water guns or other squirting devices to hand them over. He left with both hands full of them. No detentions, no nothing, just a quiet commonsense way of dealing with it. It was of course understood that any kid who didnt hand his over and later got caught with it would face detention.
Now it would be a big issue, probably the police would be called, certainly the parents, and it would be treated like an invasion by Mafia hit men.
By the way this took place in a rural school in a quite conservative community.

I'm glad the school and the authorities are all over this. We need to build more prisons and hire more cops to deal with dangerous scofflaws like this young man.

My safety is far more important than your liberty.

Papers cuts are the greatest injury facing most students today. That and potentially obtuse administrators.

Zero tolerance for obtuse administrators.

And ban paper for the student's own protection! Those cuts hurt! Ouch!

Fluvanna might be a potential host site for the Olympic's 2014 reenactment - as a demonstration sport - of the Salem Witch Trails!