This partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, June 7, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House.
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COLMES: Welcome back to HANNITY & COLMES. I'm Alan Colmes.
Coming up: Edward James Olmos says he and other protesters were mistreated by the Navy. And Sean goes one on one with a tobacco heir and anti-smoking advocate.
But first, behind the headlines on this Thursday: Has zero tolerance gone to far? A Virginia junior high school student received automatic suspension from school for possessing a knife, a knife he claims he took from a student who was apparently contemplating suicide. Was this unfair?
We're joined from Washington by Ben Ratner, the student who was suspended, and his attorney, John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute.
Good to see you both. John, it's been a while. Welcome back.
JOHN WHITEHEAD, BEN RATNER'S ATTORNEY: Thank you.
COLMES: Ben, let me ask you, just tell us -- tell us what happened.
BEN RATNER, SUSPENDED STUDENT: OK. Well, school started. It was -- first of all, it was like any other day. And I was walking in the hall, and my friend had passed me a note. And in the note, it said that she was suicidal and had a knife in her binder. And I had to go get my books for the class that I was in, and I ran into her in the library. And I took the binder from her, and it was a zippered binder. And I brought it back to my locker, and I put it in there.
And later that day, after lunch, the dean came and got me, and she said that she had heard that I had a knife in my possession.
RATNER: And I said that I didn't know because I hadn't opened the binder or looked or anything. And I told her that I had the binder. And she said for me to go to my locker and get it. So I walked to my locker by myself. Nobody was around. And I got the binder and I brought it back to her.
COLMES: And you gave -- you turned it in.
COLMES: And then what happened?
RATNER: Well, they said that there was a knife in the binder, and the assistant principal went and called somebody from the -- to the school board.
COLMES: How did this wind up on you getting suspended?
RATNER: Because of the zero tolerance policy, 8-32. It was a class A weapons violation.
COLMES: John, this is crazy!
RUTHERFORD: I believe it's crazy, yes. The zero tolerance policy basically...
RUTHERFORD: ... says that Ben was expelled for having anything that could be used as a weapon. And in a lot of these cases, anything on a child's desk can be a weapon, including a pencil or the scissors they might be using.
COLMES: The zero tolerance policy -- it sounds great. It sounds like a great phrase. It's like "three strikes and you're out," which I also object to because you don't give discretion. It's not trusting of the
school administrators or the teachers, who you hire to make these kinds of choices. And they should be able to look at a situation, understand what Ben's intent was and whether, indeed, he was a threat to the rest of the student body.
RUTHERFORD: I think that's key. Zero tolerance policies take away the ability to use intent by teachers to look at the evidence, and they should always look and see if there's a clear and present danger. And obviously, here Ben wasn't because they allowed Ben to go to his locker unaccompanied by anybody and bring the binder to the officials in charge. So obviously, he wasn't a threat to the school. And again, the question is, why was he expelled for such long time?
COLMES: Ben, you're actually a hero. You, indeed, perhaps saved this girl's life. If you can tell us, what happened to her?
RATNER: Well, a few days later -- well, the reason why I didn't turn in the knife is because I had talked to the school for about two-and-a-half years, and I'd been talking to them and telling them about the problems. And they said they did all they could by sending people to her house and -- and they said their hands were tied. And so I knew that if I just turned in the knife, automatically I'd be putting all the pressure on here and just -- it'd make it harder on her.
HANNITY: Oh, Ben, go ahead. Go ahead.
RATNER: Yes. And it ended up a few days later, she tried to commit suicide again, and fortunately, it wasn't successful. And she is now in a Christian school (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
HANNITY: Ben, I want to just reiterate this for the benefit of our audience. So this girl passes you -- was it a note that she had passed you that said she was going to use that knife to harm herself?
RATNER: Yes. I was on my way to my class and...
HANNITY: So -- so you -- what you did is what any reasonable friend would do. You don't want your friend to hurt themselves. You don't have a lot of time. You have to get to class. You take her bag that she said she had the knife in. You didn't even check to see if it was in there. You put it in your locker. How did the administration find out that you had that knife?.
RATNER: I'm not really too clear on that, but I -- I've heard that it was her sister, and there was kind of a family feuding going on.
HANNITY: Yeah. And so based on the fact she tells you this -- had there been any indication that she might be a threat to herself in the past?
RATNER: Very much so. She had -- she had tried before, and she had talked to me about it, and I -- I tried as much as I could.
HANNITY: And you probably were doing the right thing. You knew her past. You knew she had troubles. She's reaching out to you. You have to stop it before you can really delve a little deeper into it, and you put it in the locker. And then they find it, and then they suspend you. And then three days later, she -- what -- she attempted suicide.
RATNER: Yes. She tried -- and...
RATNER: ... it was unsuccessful.
HANNITY: You know what, Ben? Look, you -- I think Alan's right. You are a hero. You did the right thing. And it's amazing that the school is treating you this way and that -- of course, common sense is always -- has to be applied to the law. I understand and support, to a certain degree, zero tolerance, but this goes overboard.
What are you -- what are you planning to do from here, Ben?
RATNER: Well, we just went to the 4th district of appeals in Richmond, and that was about three weeks ago, so we should be hearing about that...
HANNITY: Yeah. How old are you, Ben?
RATNER: I'm 15.
HANNITY: OK. John, let's talk to you about the legal aspect of -- of all of this. I can't see that you don't win this right out in any court in the country. What are your plans? Where are you going from here?
RUTHERFORD: Well, we lost in the district court, the federal district court. It was appealed to the 4th circuit court of appeals.
RUTHERFORD: And now we're awaiting the decision. These cases are not as easy as you might think because, typically, the courts support schools. In fact, the lower court here basically said the school had absolute discretion in to discipline students. But what they're really overlooking, I think, is what's happening here, that students are being dehumanized. They're being treated like...
RUTHERFORD: ... common criminals. And the schools have really lost the ability to distinguish between discipline and punishment. They're...
RUTHERFORD: They're punishing kids, not disciplining anymore. And punishment's what we do in reform schools or what we do in prisons.
HANNITY: You know, there was a case when I was on -- doing a little talk radio in Atlanta. There was a young girl, talks to her teacher, want to get extra credit, is told she can bring an African artifact into school. It happened to be a knife. She brought it in, got the extra credit, and then got thrown out of school because of, quote, "zero tolerance."
I understand you're working on another case, also, John.
RUTHERFORD: Yeah, we're involved in the Lindsay Brown case in Florida, the young girl who got so much press last week, in fact.
HANNITY: With a butter knife, right!
RUTHERFORD: Had a butter knife in her (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so she was moving to her dormitory in college. The knife dropped out by accident. She didn't know it was in the car. The school searched -- searched the car, found it there. She was immediately suspended. Then she was arrested, actually, handcuffed behind her back, taken to the police station, where she was...
RUTHERFORD: ... kept for nine hours, fingerprinted and charged with a class C felony, which -- which carries up to a five-year...
HANNITY: And she -- and she was about to graduate, and I think she was going to graduate with honors.
RUTHERFORD: The school added something extra onto this. They suspended her...
RUTHERFORD: ... five days and said she couldn't graduate. She was an honor student.
COLMES: We're just out of time.
HANNITY: Hey, I want to say, Ben, by the way...
HANNITY: ... congratulations. You're a hero and...
COLMES: We both agree on that. Ben, would you do it again?
RATNER: Under the same circumstances, yes.
COLMES: That's good to know. Thank you for being with us. John, thank you.
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