Published May 31, 2012
In 2010, freshman Andrew Mikel was suspended from his Virginia high school.
The charge: “Violent criminal conduct” for using a “weapon” at school.
“This is the most ridiculous case,” says his lawyer, John Whitehead. “This is what’s wrong with our society."
Whitehead points out the “weapon” the 14-year-old used was a pen hollowed out like a straw. And the “criminal conduct” he supposedly committed was shooting plastic spitballs at fellow students during lunch.
“I made a stupid decision,” admits Mikel, a small, shy and assuming teenager. “I shouldn’t have shot those spitballs.”
Whitehead points out no one was hurt, and Mikel simply hit the backpacks of other students.
Nonetheless, the school administration and Spotsylvania high school suspended the honor student for the remainder of the school year, effectively expelling him for shooting spitballs.
“Andrew Mikel is merely the latest in a long line of victims whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators lacking in both common sense and compassion,” says Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “We have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials.”
Spotsylvania also referred the case to law enforcement, which placed Mikel in a diversion program where he had to take anger management classes. Whitehead is trying to get his record expunged and recently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after getting nowhere in Virginia’s state courts. He blames the proliferation of “zero tolerance” polices at America’s schools.
“I'm afraid of what we are doing in our public schools today,” he explained. “We are cracking down so hard on students that we are making them very compliant."
He says that kind of “compliance” will eventually lead to a loss of liberty for everyone.
“We are raising up a generation of people who are going to be afraid to step out of line. If you don't teach a child in school that they have a right to be treated fairly as human beings when they go out in the normal life, they are going to roll over when their rights are violated.”
Not so, says municipal attorney Randy Zelin, who claims zero tolerance policies are necessary to protect students.
“We’ve seen the tragedies at Columbine,” says Zelin, “and you never want something like that to happen again.”
He says the school did not go “too far” in suspending Mikel for shooting spitballs. He says anything can be used as a deadly weapon, including a spitball.
“When a spitball takes out your eye,” he says, “tell me whether or not we've gone too far.”
Whitehead is incredulous; pointing out that Mikel’s future has been ruined.
“He's going to have a record for the rest of his life for having a dangerous weapon. We are talking about a kid shooting spitballs.”
Whitehead says Mikel could easily have been punished with detention. “Don’t take the kid out of school. That is always wrong.”
“We are essentially,” he says, making our schools into police states. And these kids have no idea that they have rights and human dignity.”
Mikel says he just wants the case to be over. “I’m sorry I did what I did. I just want to move on with my life.”