Calling the suspension and arrest this week of a 16-year-old Summerville High School student "absurd," the teen's lawyer said Thursday the boy's account of getting a gun to kill a dinosaur was fiction written as a class assignment, not a threat.
Attorney David Aylor issued a statement Thursday that his client's parents are "perplexed and disappointed" over their son's three-day suspension and arrest.
"My client wrote about a fictional story that involved a neighbor's dinosaur and a gun," Aylor said in the statement. "The arrest of my client is completely absurd."
Aylor, in an interview, said the assignment was part of a resource class where the ninth-grade student, who has a learning disability, receives extra assistance.
Aylor said the student wrote about getting a gun and killing a neighbor's pet dinosaur. The student did not write about bringing a gun to school or wanting to harm a teacher or classmate, he said.
"It would be different if he said 'I'm going to shoot and kill my neighbor or shoot and kill a classmate,'" Aylor said. "In no way was there ever a threat to the school or anyone in the school or any human being for that matter."
Pat Raynor, spokeswoman for Dorchester District 2, said on Thursday she could not comment on the circumstances surrounding the incident on the advice of the school district's attorney.
According to the Dorchester District 2 student handbook, bringing a weapon to school is considered criminal conduct and can result in a student being removed from school. Wearing clothing displaying weapons, including guns, can be considered an act of disruptive conduct, under the district's rules.
"Nothing in the parent/student handbook for (Dorchester District 2) forbids discussing, drawing or writing about a gun," Aylor said.
Given the student's disability, Aylor said he doesn't understand why the school chose to bring in the police rather than have a meeting with the teen and his parents or bring him to a guidance counselor. Aylor said the school didn't contact the student's mother until after he had been confronted by police.
"It seems there would have been a better way to handle it across the board," he said.
Aylor said his client intends to appeal the suspension before challenging the legal issues of his arrest.
Ken Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services which trains school administrators on emergency preparedness, said he advises school districts to take every threat seriously without discretion.
"There is a point for discretion in the consequences for what you find in your investigation," Trump said. "That's when you have to factor in age and developmental issues and the context in which the comment or threat was made."
According to an incident report, a resource teacher identified as Jessica Lewis emailed Assistant Principal Preston Giet on Monday evening to tell him she discovered a reference to a gun while going over students' assignments.
"The email stated that the suspect had written in a classroom assignment that he had 'bought a gun to take care of business,'" the report said.
A school administrator and a resource officer questioned the student Tuesday morning. Officials searched the student's locker and bookbag for a gun but no weapons were found, according to the incident report.
When Giet asked the student about the comment regarding the gun the student "became very irate stating that it was just a joke," the report said.
"He was told at that time he was being suspended and could be possibly expelled for 'inappropriate words,'" Aylor said.
The student also was arrested and charged with disturbing schools, according to the incident report. The report did not elaborate on the behavior by the student that lead to his arrest.
Summerville Police Capt. Jon Rogers said Thursday the charge is not related to the writing assignment.
"The charges do not stem from anything involving a dinosaur or a writing assignment, but from the student's conduct," Rogers said in an email.
Trump said in today's climate where school shootings are a reality, school districts and law enforcement are put in a tough situation.
"Comments that were made by children a couple decades ago pre-Columbine, pre 9/11, pre-Sandy Hook would never rise to a suspension expulsion or prosecution," he said. "Parents see this as criminalizing the behavior but the other side of it is security and school officials can't afford to make one mistake and have a credible plot slip through the cracks that leave people killed."
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