A county court in Virginia ruled Tuesday that high school overreached by expelling a student for firing so-called "spitwads" at three classmates in December, but the court would not order the school to reverse the expulsion.
Andrew Mikel, 14, a freshman at Spotsylvania High School, was charged under the school’s zero tolerance police with “violent criminal conduct” and weapon possession for using the body of a pen to blow small, hollow plastic balls at three other students.
John W. Whitehead, the student's lawyer, may be the ideal representation for Mikel. Whitehead admits to shooting spitballs well into high school. He says if laws were as binding as they are today, he'd be "guilty about 500 times" for spitball infractions. He called the teen an "ideal student" with a 97 average and a desire for military service.
“He wanted to be a Navy SEAL,” Whitehead said, pointing out that Mikel’s father served in the Navy. He called Mikel another “victim in a long line of victims of school zero tolerance policies whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators.”
Although Mikel was first threatened with felony charges, he was instead charged with three counts of criminal misdemeanors. Hoping to put the incident behind him, Mikel offered to mow the lawns of his victims’ house, Whitehead said. But the school “would have none of it.”
The appeal was to be reinstated and have his record cleared, but this is the first step of many in the court process. And despite the fact that the court did not reverse the expulsion, Whitehead said the fact that the court agreed that the school overreached is a positive step for his client.
One of the main reasons for the legal push is to clear Mikel’s name because he had hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy after graduation and can no longer be considered as an applicant after being charged with misdemeanor assaults.
"We're going to fight this until his record is cleared," Whitehead said.
School officials were divided on the issue at the time of the incident.
Principal Russell Davis called it a "clear-cut case" for a minimum "365 day expulsion," in an email to Assistant Principal Lisa Andruss and Spotsylvania's coordinator of school safety, John Lynn. The email was one of several documents secured by the Mikels through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"We have an obligation to protect the students in our building from others who pose a threat to the over-all safe learning environment," Davis wrote.
Lynn, on the other hand, wrote in the same string of emails that he was "not at all comfortable expelling or suspending this student for the remainder of the year," recommending instead that Mikel be allowed to return to school after his initial 10-day suspension.