‘Model’ student expelled for bringing knife to school

A student in Wells, Minnesota, has been expelled from high school because she brought a pocket knife to school and the school has a zero-tolerance policy.

The case is a good example of a reality: You don’t enjoy some constitutional rights inside a school that you have outside one, at least if you’re a student.

The Austin Daily Herald says Alyssa Drescher was expelled for the rest of the year after a drug-sniffing dog focused on her locker at United South Central High School. Apparently, the dog was thrown off by perfume coming from her locker. So the authorities searched her locker and found the pocket knife at the school, which also has hosted several gun shows.

Why would a 17-year old need a pocket knife?

She said she left it in her purse after cutting hay bales at her boyfriend’s home a few days prior.

Superintendent Jerry Jensen, who testified at the hearing, said he thought the high school junior willfully violated the school’s weapons policy. He said the safety of all of the students in the school — including Drescher herself — was at risk. “Any weapon in school is a serious situation to me,” Jensen said.

The Mankato Free Press says the student thought about the knife when the drug sniffing was announced, but she didn’t say anything. School policy calls for a 3 to 5 day suspension and Drescher was suspended while the incident was investigated.

Jensen said the action is meant to send a message to the other students.

At the school board hearing yesterday, according to the Free Press, Ms. Drescher didn’t sound like much of a threat.

Witnesses called by Johnson talked of Drescher’s character, both in school and in the community.

“Alyssa is one of those kids you want all kids to be like,” said Lisa Kibler, a Head Start teacher and friend of the Drescher family.

USC Athletic Director Sue Summer talked of Alyssa’s diligence in watching over her younger brother when her father was working.

“Just a great kid,” Summer said.

Bruce Mandler, Drescher’s boss at the local supermarket, said she was a great employee and a role model for other girls in the community.

“Any parent in the school district would be proud to have a daughter like Alyssa, in my opinion,” Mandler said.

Whether any of that mattered to the school board is unclear because it held its subsequent discussion in secret, then voted in public without giving any reason.

The district attorney said the school can’t have two sets of rules, one for the model students and one for the rest.

Discussion point: Should there be? If you’ve been a model student, have you earned the benefit of the doubt?

Related: We Support Alyssa Drescher Facebook page

  • Kassie

    I may be missing something, but it seems like she did get special treatment. The post says the infraction calls for 3-5 days suspension, but she was expelled. Special treatment the opposite way.

    I’m against people getting special treatment due to being a special student (like Joe Joblanski did with his prom date.) But I’m also against expelling any student for accidentally bringing a pocket knife to school. It would be one thing if the kid threatened someone with it, or even flashed it, but this was hidden away. Especially in rural schools, I bet if you did random searches of all the kids, 10%-20% would have knives or such things. These kids use them in their daily lives.

    • The suspension is required but doesn’t preclude the expulsion. The suspension takes place while the incident is being investigated.

    • Dave

      22 people were stabbed in Pennsylvania a couple weeks ago when a kid brought a kitchen knife to school. Put yourself in the school’s position. They find a knife in a locker. Just because she hasn’t yet attacked someone doesn’t mean she won’t; they have no idea why a knife is there.

      I’m not saying she deserved expulsion (maybe they look at a student’s behavioural record and act accordingly), but I do believe you should be punished for bringing a weapon to school — whether you brought it accidentally is irrelevant.

      DON’T BRING A KNIFE TO SCHOOL.

      • Kassie

        Ok, theoretically “don’t bring a knife to school” is fine. But again, we are talking rural kids here. What if their after school job is on a farm? How do they get the knife there? I assume even leaving it in their car on school property is against the rules. And a pocket knife is not a kitchen knife.

        • Dave

          It doesn’t matter whether they’re rural. A knife is a knife. The rule says you can’t bring a knife. The rule does not say, “Go ahead and bring a knife if you’re a ‘rural kid’ with a farm job and you can’t figure out a way to keep your knife away from our school.”

          The school’s job is to keep students safe. It’s not the school’s job to allow knives simply because that would be convenient for after-school employment.

          Maybe the students can learn that actions have consequences. No knives means no knives.

          • Kassie

            My point is the rule is absolutely ridiculous. First, kids are going to accidentally break it all the time. Second, it isn’t going to stop a school stabbing. No one is thinking, I guess I can’t go kill my classmates because knives aren’t allowed in school. You know what, murder isn’t allowed in school either, but that didn’t stop the PA stabbings.

          • Dave

            Kassie, do you think that these students are helpless protozoa? They are NOT going to accidentally break the rule “all the time” once they understand that there consequences for doing so. That is why this student was punished. They are old enough to learn!

            The school saw that a rule was violated and acted. I would rather they do that than try to assess all the theoretical possibilities for why there is a knife in a locker, in clear violation of the rule.

            I once had a pocket knife confiscated by the TSA. Shockingly, I have since then never forgotten to remove it from my keychain prior to leaving for the airport.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            The solution is a “safe room”. If a student has a need to have tools at school for an after school job then maybe the policy needs to allow for a place that those tools can be stored during the day. At the end of the day the student can recover their tools and go to their job.

          • Dave

            Or maybe their damn workplaces account for these theoretical tools and we don’t ask the school to concern themselves with the issue.

          • Jamie

            Did they kick you out of the airport and make you miss your trip? Did they fire you from your job? Think of the equivalence of being expelled from school versus having your knife confiscated.

          • Dave

            You’re right, they never did those things. They also never said that they would do those things. If being kicked out of the airport was a potential consequence, maybe I’d have remembered to leave my knife at home.

            Also, you may notice above that I too wondered whether she deserved expulsion.

          • The difference here, though, is that the student wasn’t carrying the knife upon her person; it was tucked away in her locker. Surely you know that you, as an air traveler, can freely transport a knife (or even a gun) on board an airliner — just not on your person. The weapon has to be checked-in and transported as/in baggage.

            So, your situation was not at all like the student’s situation.

  • We should probably also talk about the capabilities of the K-9 drug sniffing dog in Wells, MN., who, for the record, went 0 for 8.

    • Guest

      Well, they certainly found something.

      • Dave

        Why did you undelete my comment? I thought it was a dumb comment, which is why I deleted it.

        • I haven’t touched your comments or anyone else’s comments in this thread.

          • Dave

            Weird, man.

    • Chris

      Seems like the search that revealed the knife was unreasonable because it was prompted by a faulty sniff from a faulty dog. How much does it cost to train and maintain a drug sniffing dog over its lifetime and could that money be better spent in a county with a population of 14,000? I am not a lawyer.

  • John

    I’m unclear on something . . .

    It appears the policy is a 3-5 day suspension (that’s what I get from Bob’s post). If a 3-5 day suspension is, in fact, the policy – why is she being expelled for the remainder of the year?

    • The suspension is required while the investigation takes place. It isn’t in and of itself the extent of possible punishment.

      • John

        Thanks Bob. That clarifies it for me.

  • Tyler

    The real issue here is zero-tolerance policies. They hurt everyone by not allowing leeway one way or the other. “Good apples” get zinged when they make a mistake. Troubled students aren’t allowed to have a second chance. Administrators’ hands are tied. I understand the sentiment behind zero-tolerance policies, but that kind of regimen is harmful.

    Besides, a policy didn’t keep that kid who stabbed 22 students from bringing knives to school anyway.

    • Bose

      I’ll accept the superintendent’s statement, “the safety of all of the students in the school […] was at risk” after evidence is brought forward. If it’s unambiguously true, then let’s see the statistics and/or anecdotal examples of harm from comparable circumstances or schools. Yes, all students need to follow the rules, and at the same time, the rules need to be reasonable.

      Next, bring the evidence forward that expulsion is necessary and justified — the best option — for achieving compliance. Does it generate far better results, even on first offences, than suspension alone? Let’s talk to kids and parents who can help confirm that suspension, parent meetings and at-school hearings were too trivial to get their attention or cooperation.

      The other risk we’re taking with these kids is that they’ll emerge as adults with no risk assessment or management skills. When every pocketknife is deadly and every peer is a potential assailant, how do they function in a kitchen or on a construction project?

  • Gary F

    We need to keep students and staff from protecting themselves against the mentally ill people who don’t obey weapon free zone rules.

    • Joe

      Only mentally ill people break rules, look at Cliven Bundy!

  • Jamie

    I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies.

  • Teen in Hartford, CT stabbed to death, possibly b/c she declined a prom date, Boston Globe reports. http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/04/25/student-stabbed-connecticut-high-school/dnN9OO1DpSMTONZnIRrIdK/story.html

  • Rod

    My son and many other teenage boys and girls walk into school every day each carrying a bag with 1-3 baseball or softball bats. If I’m in a fight and I have to choose between a pocket knife and a bat I’m choosing the bat. A pocket knife is not a weapon. A gun is a weapon. A switch-blade is a weapon. A hunting knife is a weapon. I’m all for zero tolerance of weapons in schools. Just don’t classify a non-weapon as a weapon because it has the word “knife” in it’s name. Can a pocket knife be used as a weapon? Sure it can, but so can a backpack full of books or a fork in the cafeteria or a vial of acid in Chemistry class or a baseball bat or a tennis racket…

  • Christin

    A policy is a policy. So if the district has a zero tolerance policy they must enforce it; changing the rules for one kid is a slippery slope. That being said, I think zero tolerance policies are generally a bad idea; it does not allow the district to make decisions based on the child and their circumstances. In this case, the zero tolerance policy lead to a ridiculous punishment. In other cases, there could be a child who has family issues or struggles with an illness… zero tolerance policies can take away our ability to meet the needs of kids.

  • Cam

    The problem is with the policy. Zero-tolerance policies attempt to apply a black-and-white rule to a world that is anything but black-and-white. In my opinion, adopting a zero-tolerance policy is a cop-out on the school’s part. It gives the school bard an easy out and shields them from any responsibility and accountability. They can just point to the rule and say, “Our hands our tied” instead of applying judgement and finding an appropriate consequence for the “crime”.

    I also see a problem with public agencies such as a school board conducting any of their operations in secret. It all reeks of fear and laziness.

    • Cam

      *board; *are tied;

  • shleigh

    In rural settings, where teachers, principals, law enforcement and the community knows the kid, some leeway is necessary. I know of a guy in a small town (less than 2,000 ppl) who had a hunting rifle in his car parked at the school. Obviously a weapon, but the principal knew the kid was a hunter and it was hunting season. He pulled him from class and sent him to bring the gun home. No harm done. The school was safe and the student didn’t have an ugly mark on his record from an honest mistake.

  • tboom

    “…it held its subsequent discussion in secret, then voted in public without giving any reason.”
    Public boards holding closed sessions makes me crazy, if the discussion is secret what’s the point of a public vote?

    “…drug-sniffing dog focused on her locker at United South Central High School. Apparently, the dog was thrown off by perfume …”
    If the dog gets fired, our cats need a companion.

    ”Why would a 17-year old need a pocket knife?”
    Heck, why would an elementary student need a knife. For a couple of years in elementary school I would occasionally carry a Cub Scout knife. I used it for the same purpose, but strangely never encountered bales of straw or hay at school.

  • mandy

    I have to say that I must commend
    you on your decision for suspending Alyssa. As a former student of USC I know
    that there has always been some sort of zero tolerance policy for bringing
    weapons to school. This rule must apply to everyone not just those who are not
    model students. Alyssa may be a perfect model student but the fact remains that
    she brought a pocket knife to school. We do not know if she meant to use it or
    not. The fact is the knife was there. If we make an exception here we are
    telling our students that they can bring a weapon to school and nothing will
    happen to them. With all of the school shootings like Columbine, Virginia Tech,
    and Sandy Hook Elementary we cannot afford to make an exception for anyone
    because next time it may be too late. We can look to the news today to see what
    can happen when a student brings a knife to school. On Wednesday April 9th
    2014 in Murrysville Pennsylvania a student stabbed and slashed 21
    others. This is a prime example of what could happen in our own schools if we
    make an exception. I fully support your decision on this and wish that our
    community would wake up, take a look around, and actually see what is wrong with
    this picture. The community seems to be blind in everything that is happening
    around them. If something were to happen at our school the community would be
    the first ones to attack the school for not being prepared. The community would
    hold the school accountable for what happened. The community needs to remember
    that the school is liable if something would happen to our kids while they are
    at school. The community should only be upset if you did not suspend or expel
    this student for her actions. I wanted to let you know that I fully support your
    decision and hope that the board votes to expel this student.

    Thank you for having the best
    interests of our students in mind and Thank you for keeping them safe.

  • Scaramouche

    The fact that our society can support such nonsense as zero-tolerance is my sole justification for believing in my own continued sanity.

    Despite what our society’s doctors say.

  • oooBooo

    Anarcho-tyranny at it’s finest. A fine demonstration that schools are prisons as well.

  • Tony Bananas

    The problem with zero-tolerance policies is that they’re a lazy, fear-driven, cowardly way to run things. School boards like zero-tolerance policies because it removes their requirement to have to think. They can just become cogs in the administrative machine. There’s no risk of being accused of making a “bad” decision if you set up a system that removes decision making from the process. Helicopter parents like zero-tolerance policies because they’ve both convinced themselves that their child will never run afoul of such a rule, while at the same time mentally exaggerating the potential dangers their own child might face.