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CATSKILL, NY- Teachers who tell kids that men can have babies and that they can choose their gender? That’s just fine. Have an honors student and Boy Scout accidentally bring a small pocketknife to school? Throw the book at him.
Such is the case of a student in Catskill, New York, were such a student learned his fate after he forgot a small pocketknife in his backpack from his part-time after school job. In fact, he was even proactive, turning the knife over to school administrators prior to being searched, the Times Union reported.
Owen Valentino, 17, learned he will be suspended from school for 37 days as punishment for inadvertently leaving the knife in his backpack after his part-time job performing property maintenance and odd jobs for a property in town. He used the knife to cut some carpet and forgot it was in the backpack.
Valentino originally received a five day suspension for the offense, which was to start on Oct. 27. However after a hearing with administrators at the school, they tacked on an additional 32-day suspension, which left his parents “absolutely floored,” his mother, Colleen Rosenblatt said.
Instead Valentino, who should be preparing for college instead has to endure a nearly two month pause in his education, Rosenblatt said. The suspension has been met with an outpouring of support from the community, including friends, Boy Scout leaders and even some educators who believe Owen’s punishment is unfair.
The incident has also called attention to the quandary faced by school administrators, who are forced to adhere to federal safety rules and regulations while also implementing local student conduct codes, all designed to keep schools and the students within safe.
The suspension is scheduled to end this week on Jan. 3 when the academic year resumes. Owen will then be allowed to attend classes, engage in sports and attend after-school events.
In an interview last week with Owen, Rosenblatt and his stepfather Paul Rosenblatt, Owen said he was called into the main office during classes on Oct. 27. Once there, administrators told him that he had allegedly been spotted vaping inside the school bathroom.
Owen admitted he had indeed used the bathroom; however said he was not vaping. His parents added that no such devices were found on him by administrators.
Prior to conducting a search, administrators asked Owen if he was in possession of anything they should be aware of. Owen then told them he had the pocketknife in his backpack, which he told them was used for work. He handed the knife over to the administrators willingly.
They confiscated the knife and told Owen he was being suspended for five days.
New York law however, mandates that any suspension greater than five days carry a hearing. That hearing was attended by his parents. His stepfather Paul is a long-time New York state trooper.
During the hearing, the interim school superintendent, Thomas Bongiovi and Principal Junait Shah asked Owen to admit that he had brought the knife to school, which clearly he had already done during the initial office encounter.
They reviewed his student academic record and disciplinary history and then dropped the 32-day suspension on him, which removed him from school for the rest of the semester.
The Times Union received a copy of the discipline report from the Rosenblatts, which showed only one other minor disciplinary issue during high school—a one-day detention during his junior year because he “did not abide with school rules.”
While his parents appealed the decision to the school board, it fell on deaf ears and the suspension was levied.
In trying to fight the suspension, Owen’s mother enlisted the support of a number of individuals totaling over 30 in number, including letters of support from family members, friends, leaders from his Boy Scout troop, as well as several school employees.
The letters were given to the Times Union and painted a “picture of a polite teen who dotes on his younger siblings, helps other high school athletes in the school’s fitness center and strives to be an exemplary Boy Scout.”
In one letter, Owen was described as “a dedicated, hard-working, respectful young man.” Still another noted he has “excellent and confident emotional skills, always displaying the utmost respect and friendliness towards all others.”
One family friend noted that Owen having the pocketknife “was an honest mistake,” while adding that Owen was “the complete opposite of a problem” but rather “the person you can count on to help out and make things better.”
It should also be noted that Owen is striving to become an Eagle Scout, an achievement attained by only about five percent of Boy Scouts. His Eagle project is to improve hiking trails in Rensselaerville in the state of New York.
The Times Union reached out to the superintendent, however he said he cannot delve into student’s disciplinary records. He did however read from a statement offered at a Dec. 14 school board meeting.
“The 682 public schools in New York state must have a code of conduct adopted before the first day of school; it has to be adopted every year. So, every year, schools are required to review their codes of conduct to make any necessary changes and then adopt it at a public hearing.”
“We held our public hearing on our code of conduct on July 27 and again on Aug. 17,,” Bongiovi continued. “It was adopted at the Aug. 17, 2022, board [of education] meeting. And as I said at the meeting, as part of every student code of conduct in New York state, the Guns-Free School Act of 1994 requires each state receiving federal funds to have a state law in effect requiring public school districts to suspend, for at least one year, any student who has brought a weapon onto the school grounds.
“That one-year suspension is mandatory by law. The caveat in the law is a superintendent may modify—meaning shorten—the mandatory one-year suspension on a case-by-case basis.”
The 1994 federal act does mandate a one-year suspension for a firearm; however when New York adopted the law, the ban was expanded to include any “dangerous weapon.” That is defined in federal law as part of an object capable of “causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocketknife with a blade of less than 2-1/2 inches in length.”
According to an image shared with the Times Union by Owen’s parents the blade on his pocketknife was 3-1/2 inches.
Owen’s mother, Carol Rosenblatt argues the suspension has “disrupted” his “learning, social life, and sports participation.” During his suspension, he has been given assignments and meets with a tutor a few times a week for about an hour. Despite that, Rosenblatt argues that he’s not receiving the type of education he would in a classroom environment.
The suspension may have cost Owen a college scholarship for volleyball, one of four sports he plays, including baseball, soccer and football. During the suspension, he missed a volleyball tournament which is attended by college recruiters, his mother rued.
Owen said that the situation “sucks”
“I have to keep up with all the work and then try to figure out college stuff,” all the while dealing with the suspension.
Owen’s is not the first incident where a student in New York’s Capital Region was suspended for a pocketknife. For example, in 2009, a student at an area high school was given a 20-day suspension for bringing a 1-1/2 inch pocketknife to school.
The stupidity also extends to Florida, where a middle school student who brought a butter knife to school to cut a peach in the school’s cafeteria saw herself suspended from school for “violating district policy,” WPLG Local 10 reported.
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