Student suspension over pocket knife has parents ‘absolutely floored’

CATSKILL — An honor student at Catskill and Boy Scout High School has been suspended for a total of 37 school days after leaving a small pocket knife in his backpack that he used for after-school work. he turned over to the administrators before an independent search of his person.

Owen Valentino, 17, said he accidentally left the knife in his backpack after using it to cut carpet for a part-time job landscaping and odd jobs at a property in the city. city. He was initially suspended for five days beginning Oct. 27, but received an additional 32-day suspension after a hearing with administrators, a decision that “absolutely floored” the family, his mother, Colleen Rosenblatt, said.

The two-month hiatus from the teenager’s education and efforts to combat it have taken Valentino’s attention away from college preparations, according to Rosenblatt. It has sparked an outpouring of support from friends, scout leaders and educators who believe the punishment is unfair. And it has shed light on the choices school administrators face when trying to adhere to federal school safety rules while implementing local student codes of conduct aimed at keeping schools safe.

The suspension will end on January 3 when the school year resumes, when he can once again attend classes, play sports and attend extracurricular events.

In an interview Wednesday with Valentino, Rosenblatt and his stepfather, Paul Rosenblatt, the student said he was first called to the school’s main office during his fourth period English class on October 27. There, school administrators told Owen that someone had reported him vaping. in the school bathroom. Although he used the bathroom, Valentino said he does not vape, and his parents said the school did not find a vaping device on him.

Before searching it, the administrators asked Valentino if he had anything to know. Owen said he had a pocket knife in his bag, which he uses for work, and handed it over.

Administrators confiscated the knife, suspended Valentino for five days, and asked him to leave school property.

State law requires a hearing for suspensions longer than five days. During the student’s hearing, which was attended by longtime police officer Colleen and Paul, Acting Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi and Principal Junait Shah asked Valentino to admit that he brought the knife at school, reviewed his student record and discipline history report, and suspended him for an additional 32 school days – the remainder of the semester.

A copy of the discipline history report provided to the Times Union by the Rosenblatts showed little about Valentino’s history. According to records, he had only one other disciplinary problem in high school: He received a day of detention during his freshman year because he “didn’t follow school rules.”

Her parents appealed the decision to the school board, but were unsuccessful.

To support his case, Valentino’s mother collected more than 30 letters of support from family members, friends, leaders of his scout troop and several school employees. The letters, which were given to The Times Union, paint a portrait of a polite teenager who dotes on his younger siblings, helps other high school athletes in the school fitness center and strives to be an exemplary Scout.

A letter called him “a dedicated, hard-working and respectful young man.” Another said he had “excellent and confident emotional skills, always showing the utmost respect and friendliness to all others”. A family friend wrote that the pocket knife ‘was an honest mistake’, adding that Valentino was ‘the opposite of a problem’ but rather ‘the person you can count on to help and make things better’ .

He seeks to become an Eagle Scout, which is achieved by only 5% of members. He said he wanted to improve the hiking trails in Rensselaerville as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Reached by phone, Superintendent Bongiovi said he could not discuss student disciplinary records, but read a statement he made at a school board meeting Dec. 14 after several people took the word for Valentino: “The 682 public schools in New York State must pass a code of conduct before the first day of school; it must be passed every year. So every year schools are required to review their code of conduct to make the necessary changes, then adopt it in a public hearing.

“We held our public hearing on our code of conduct on July 27 and again on August 17,” Bongiovi continued. “It was passed at the August 17, 2022 (Education) Board meeting. And, as I said at the meeting, as part of every student code of conduct in the State of New York, the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 requires every state receiving federal funds to have a state law in effect requiring public school districts to suspend, for at least one year, any student who has brought a gun on the school grounds.

“This one-year suspension is mandatory under the law. The caveat in the law is that a superintendent can vary – that is, shorten – the mandatory one-year suspension on a case-by-case basis. .”

The Guns-Free School Act of 1994 contains language mandating a one-year suspension (subject to amendment by the superintendent) for a firearm, but when New York passed the law, it expanded the prohibition to include any “dangerous weapon”, a term defined by federal law in part as an object capable of “causing death or serious bodily injury, except that this term does not include a pocket knife with a blade less than 2½ inches length”.

The blade of Valentino’s pocket knife measured 3½ inches, according to an image taken by the school and shared with the Times Union by Owen’s parents.

Colleen Rosenblatt said the suspension disrupted her son’s learning, social life and athletic participation. Although he still receives assignments and meets remotely with a tutor two to three times a week for about an hour, he does not receive the kind of consistent instruction he would receive in the classroom.

Valentino, who also plays baseball, soccer and football, said he was no longer allowed to participate in volleyball, which he had planned to play in college. Due to the suspension, he missed a volleyball tournament attended by college scouts, his mother said.

He talked about missing friends and volleyball.

“It sucks,” he said. “I have to keep up with all the work and then try to figure out the college stuff” while dealing with the suspension.

This is not the only case where a student has been suspended for a pocket knife in the capital region. In 2009, a Lansingburgh High School student was suspended for 20 days for bringing a 1½-inch pocket knife to school.

In South Florida, a girl was suspended from college for six days for using a butter knife to cut a peach in the school cafeteria, which violated district policy, according to WPLG Local 10. .

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John

    More false safety policies that do nothing to help real problems.

    1. admin

      You can say that again. Decisive rules need to be implemented by the authority

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