Tony Richard

Tony Richard was all smiles as he talked about being able to return to school on Tuesday. His mom, Michelle Richard, is at left.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Sept. 23: Back to school for Blaine senior after box cutter suspension

  • Article by: TERRY COLLINS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 3, 2008 - 7:17 AM

A Blaine teenager who was suspended from school for 10 days after a box cutter was spotted in his car in his high school's parking lot will be allowed to return to school today, the Anoka-Hennepin school board decided Monday night.

Blaine High School senior Tony Richard, 17, was suspended after admitting that the box cutter was sitting in plain sight in his car's cup holder Sept. 5, where it was spotted by a security guard checking parking passes. Richard said the cutter was a tool he used in his job on a Cub Foods clean-up crew, where his duties included cutting up cardboard boxes.

In suspending Richard, administrators invoked the school's zero-tolerance weapons policy and recommended to the school board that he be expelled.

However, late Monday the six-member board voted 5-1 that despite the policy, Richard can return to school, but will be on probation until Nov. 10, the end of the first quarter at school.

Any infractions during that time could result in his expulsion, school officials said, adding that technically, the punishment will be considered an expulsion for the purposes of record-keeping.

School board members and administrators declined to comment after the vote, citing confidentiality rules around student disciplinary matters.

Francie Gleason, a resident who showed up to support the Richard family, thanked the board for "using common sense."

For his part, Richard said it will feel "great to go back to school with my friends," especially with the school's spirit week underway, which culminates this weekend in its homecoming football game. He called his two weeks away from school "boring."

The case illustrates the dilemma school administrators nationwide face in enforcing zero-tolerance weapons policies, many of which were instituted in the aftermath of widely publicized school shootings across the country. If school officials choose not to punish a student who has brought a weapon to school after ruling that there was no ill intent, they may open the door to others to do the same, but with more malevolent intent.

At the time of the initial discipline, Richard, whose disciplinary record up to then was limited to a few tardies, expressed incredulity, saying, "I pretty much said, 'Are you kidding?' I didn't know how to react."

Tony's mother, Michelle, hugged him as they spoke to well-wishers and journalists after the vote. "I'm excited and very happy he's going back to school," she said. "He made a mistake, plain and simple."

She said that she was grateful for an outpouring of support from family member, friends and the community, and that she will continue to fight the zero-tolerance weapons policy.

In explaining the school's action, district communications specialist Sarah Schwartz referred to the Blaine High School handbook, which prohibits weapons of any kind on school grounds, including knives, toy guns and pepper spray. Box cutters are specifically listed.

Kyle MacDonald, 17, a friend of Richard, said after Monday night's meeting that he was glad the board "cut him a break," but that he thinks the zero-tolerance policy needs revision so students of good will aren't punished in the same way a person bent on harming someone would be.

Meanwhile, Tony Richard said he'll be back in his seat in his 7:45 a.m. English class today. Asked if he took any lesson away from his experience, he said:

"Don't bring a box cutter to school."

Terry Collins • 612-673-1790

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