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Honor student's suspension over knife raises questions about zero tolerance

Atiya Haynes, seen here with her attorney, said she forgot that she was carrying a pocketknife that her grandfather gave her for protection.

Atiya Haynes, seen here with her attorney, said she forgot that she was carrying a pocketknife that her grandfather gave her for protection.  (MyFoxDetroit.com)

The 17-year-old Michigan honor student who was initially expelled after a 3 ¼-inch pocketknife was found in her purse during a football game in September will be suspended for the year instead and be able to take online classes and graduate with her class next year, MyFoxDetroit.com reported.

Though the Dearborn Heights District 7 Board of Education softened the punishment, Atiya Haynes said the board, which met on Monday, made up its mind before it handed down the ruling.

Haynes, who reportedly has a 3.0 GPA and hopes to attend Howard University, does not deny having the pocketknife, but the knife was a gift from her grandfather in July. He gave it to her for protection because she held two summer jobs and rode a bike to each one.

Slate reported that Haynes packed her bag with "lotion, sandals, hair products, a swimsuit" (she was a lifeguard). She also put the knife in the bag and said she forgot about it.

The school board said its hands were tied in the case because it is required to uphold state laws. The state has a zero-tolerance rule.

The Slate report pointed out that there is a loophole in the law. A school does not have to expel a student if the student can prove that she did not know she had the weapon or the student was given permission to possess the weapon.

"Every time you forget your keys to your house, think of me," she told the station. "Think of this honest mistake. I'm a human being."