Feb. 10, 2001
School expels boy for lying about seeing gun
PORT ST. JOHN, Fla. - An 8-year-old boy was expelled from Challenger 7 Elementary School on Friday for admitting he lied about seeing a gun on school grounds, Brevard Public Schools officials said.
Schools spokeswoman Sara Stern said the expulsion of third-grader Andre Petway was in line with the School District's zero-tolerance policy on violence or the threat of violence in schools. She compared the seriousness of what the boy did to a bomb threat.
The boy's mother, Kimberly Cliatt of Port St. John, called the action "absurd," and said her son was coerced into saying he saw a gun in the first place after intense questioning by the school principal and vice principal without a parent in the room.
According to Stern and Cliatt, Andre told a classmate he saw a gun on school property during recess Thursday.
The girl told her parents when she got home, and Friday, they accompanied her to school to tell the principal, Sandra Demmon, what their daughter had said.
Demmon and an assistant principal called Andre into their office for questioning. Stern said Andre first told them he had seen a gun. But after further questioning, Andre admitted he had made up the story, Stern said.
At that point, the principal decided to expel him and called Cliatt to pick him up.
"We have to make sure we have a safe and secure environment," Stern said. "He set into motion a whole series of events of great concern. It is akin to a bomb threat."
Stern said the boy's age was irrelevant given the current climate at schools across the country in which "every day there are school shootings."
"There have been 8-year-olds with guns at school before," she said. "It needs to be impressed on kids that these things aren't funny."
Cliatt scoffed at what she said was an extreme overreaction.
"He didn't say he had a gun. He didn't say he could get a gun. He didn't say he was going to shoot people," Cliatt said. "He didn't threaten anyone. And he didn't even tell it to a teacher."
Cliatt contends that Andre did not even tell the girl he had seen a gun.
"He said he saw a ball," she said. "This girl is making things up."
Demmond and the assistant principal "interrogated him without even telling me what was going on," Cliatt said.
"They kept telling him, 'You said you saw a gun, right," and finally he said, 'Yeah,' " Cliatt said.
She also said Demmond and Area IV Superintendent Ron Bobay told her that no one searched the grounds for a gun.
"They said there was no need, that they already ascertained there wasn't a gun," Cliatt said.
When Cliatt picked up Andre, he was crying and confused, she said.
Cliatt said she sent Andre to Challenger 7 Elementary, even though he did not live in the school zone, because it offers year-round schooling, which is more convenient for her work schedule.
The public schools allow such out-of-area transfer students as long as parents can show why it is necessary, agree to certain terms and have the principal's approval. But the principal can revoke the out-of-area transfer privilege for disciplinary reasons, which is what Demmond did, Stern said.
Andre will be allowed to attend Atlantis Elementary in Port St. John. Cliatt said she also will take her fourth-grade daughter, Kayla, out of Challenger.
Lisa Stephan, whose daughter was suspended for three days last year from Delaura Middle School in Satellite Beach, under the zero-tolerance rule, said the policy often is "zero common sense."
Stephan's daughter accepted two prescription drugs from another student when she complained of a headache. Brevard schools policy states that students cannot have any type of drug in their possession, even aspirin, without first receiving the consent of school administrators.
"The problem with the rule is that it is so arbitrary," Stephan said. "Who makes the decisions and who decides on the punishment? It seems like it all depends on who the kid is and whether the school can get away with it without much of a fight being put up."
Stern said Andre has a history of disciplinary problems at the school, which Demmon said weighed into her decision. She said she did not know the specifics of the incidents.
"The principal has contacted the parents several times," Stern said.
But Cliatt said the only calls she received from the school were about her son's academics.
"They'd want to know why he didn't have his homework or was late for the first period," she said.