The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 11, 2012

Law protects pupil with knife

Special education student only suspended at Mifflinburg

By Jennifer Peltz and Rachel Cohen
The Associated Press

By Evamarie Socha

The Daily Item


MIFFLINBURG — State law calls for at least a one-year expulsion for pupils found to bring weapons onto school grounds, but that rule can be relaxed when it comes to special education students.

A special education student who brought a Swiss army knife to a Mifflinburg school in October was only suspended.

According to sources familiar with the incident, the student didn’t threaten nor harm anyone with the knife. The student’s age and condition were not made available, and it was not clear how or who became aware the student had the knife.

Superintendent Dan Lichtel said he would not comment about this specific case.

However, “There is a variety of exceptions and provisions that can be made depending on different things,” Lichtel said, and special education students — or exceptional students, in some references — come under that consideration.

This is covered under Pennsylvania’s Safe Schools Act — or Act 26, passed in 1995 and amended in 1997 — that directs schools to expel for at least one year any student who brings or possesses a weapon on school property.

The law also requires school districts to have a written policy on the issue. Mifflinburg’s “weapons and dangerous instruments” section of school policy states “no one is permitted on school property with a weapon at any time.”

However, Act 26 also lets the school superintendent recommend modifications to an expulsion on a case-by-case basis. And in the case of an exceptional student, superintendents must “take all steps necessary” to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“It’s up to the school district how to handle such a case,” said Ricki Boyle, director of special education and early childhood services for the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, which serves Valley school districts.

“I’m sure (Mifflinburg) did its due diligence in determining what to do about this,” she said.

Among top considerations is the student’s level of intellectual disability.

“You don’t do an expulsion hearing with this type of child,” Boyle said. “There is a long process of parents, teachers, a whole team to understand in depth what has happened.”

One reason for this, Boyle said, is the various degrees of disability that all come under the special education header.

“A child with Tourette syndrome may be considered special education as is a child with Down syndrome,” she said. “The labels don’t differ but their needs and supports do.”

This isn’t to say a special education student may never be expelled, “but state law is pretty stringent in that you need to think of what is the best education life of this child,” Boyle said. “Expulsion would take him completely out of the learning environment.”