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Spotsylvania student's spitball case goes to court Tuesday
Andrew Mikel Sr. (left) poses with his son Andrew Mikel II at their home in Spotsylvania. They'll be in court on Tuesday.
ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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By PAMELA GOULD
Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead
He views the six-month suspension of Spotsylvania High School freshman Andrew Mikel II for shooting small plastic balls through a tube at classmates as zero tolerance run amok.
But three members of the Spotsylvania School Board and the division superintendent see things differently, and on Tuesday a circuit court judge will hear evidence to determine whose side he's on.
Andrew, 14, was initially suspended for 10 days after striking three classmates with plastic balls blown through a tube during school on Dec. 10.
Then on Jan. 3, two weeks after Andrew's hearing before School Safety Coordinator John Lynn, Superintendent Jerry Hill chose to suspend him for the remainder of the school year. Hill sent a letter to Andrew's father--also named Andrew Mikel--informing him of the suspension, and gave Andrew the option of attending the alternative high school at John J. Wright and appealing the decision.
Mikel chose to home-school his son and appealed, going before a three-member School Board discipline committee.
That committee, made up of board members Marty Wilder, Linda Wieland and Gil Seaux, upheld Hill's decision on Jan. 18.
The next month, the Rutherford Institute sued the School Board on Andrew's behalf, seeking his immediate reinstatement to school and expungement of all records related to the suspension.
Whitehead, who is founder and president of the Charlottesville-based civil liberties group, said he has been litigating what he termed zero-tolerance cases since the 1990s.
"I don't think schools are taking into account the long-term effect," he said. "These are not discipline policies. These are punishment policies."
OPTIONS AND GOALS
By the time Andrew's case is heard on Tuesday, there will be just 13 days left in the 2010-11 school year.
Because he was suspended--and not expelled as Whitehead's group erroneously claimed--he can automatically return when the 2011-12 school year begins on Aug. 24.
Andrew has a sister at Spotsylvania High School, but Whitehead was uncertain whether the family planned for him to re-enroll.
Whitehead said his focus now is on clearing Andrew's record to lessen the long-term harm.
Already, Andrew has lost any hope of attending the U.S. Naval Academy as Whitehead and Andrew's father said he'd dreamed.
Tuesday's hearing is governed by the Code of Virginia's Section 22.1-87, titled "Judicial Review," which reads as follows:
"Any parent, custodian, or legal guardian of a pupil attending the public schools in a school division who is aggrieved by an action of the school board may, within thirty days after such action, petition the circuit court having jurisdiction in the school division to review the action of the school board. Such review shall proceed upon the petition, the minutes of the meeting at which the school board's action was taken, the orders, if any, of the school board, an attested copy of the transcript, if any, of any hearing before the school board, and any other evidence found relevant to the issues on appeal by the court. The action of the school board shall be sustained unless the school board exceeded its authority, acted arbitrarily or capriciously, or abused its discretion."