Banner student suspended again

Principal says Leatherman tool considered a weapon; student calls it retaliation for past action

Posted: Friday, March 08, 2002

The student suspended from Juneau-Douglas High School for a banner he displayed during the Olympic Torch Relay was suspended again Thursday for carrying a Leatherman tool.

Joseph Frederick said he was suspended by Assistant Principal Dale Staley for 30 school days for violating the school district's weapons policy. His family faxed a copy of the suspension notice to the Empire.

The school district's policy doesn't allow students to have weapons, including knives, on school property. But the policy makes exceptions for weapons or tools used for educational purposes or food preparation.

Frederick, 18, said he was wearing on his belt a Leatherman tool, which contains devices such as a can opener, screwdrivers and a short-bladed knife. He said he uses the tool in an auto shop class.

"To me it seems like obvious retaliation for going to the press for 'Bong hits 4 Jesus' and kicking me out for that," said Frederick, a senior.

The school suspended Frederick for 10 days after he participated in displaying a 15-foot-long banner proclaiming "Bong hits 4 Jesus" across the street from JDHS when Olympic torch runners went by in late January.

JDHS Principal Deb Morse said she can't speak about specific discipline actions. But she said all students who carry knives, including Leatherman tools, are suspended for 30 days. About six students a year are suspended for having knives, she said. Students often appeal the suspension to the superintendent, and the period is sometimes reduced.

"It's a serious thing," Morse said today. "We also know it's a serious consequence and does impact students. And so it's not done lightly. We've got to let students know we can't have weapons of any kind on school property."

Frank Frederick, Joseph's father, said his son has worn the tool for the past six or seven months "and not a single teacher or administrator has ever informed him that Leatherman was not allowed and considered a knife and/or weapon."

Morse said students were told in three bulletins last spring that Leatherman tools are prohibited weapons. At the beginning of the school year, school officials told students in every English class about the weapons policy, she said.

Tools that students are allowed to use in class are provided by the school and shouldn't be taken to and from the room, Morse said.

Frank Frederick said he thought the suspension was intended to discredit his son just before a March 13 School Board hearing on the banner-related suspension. Frederick said he has seen teachers carry Leatherman tools at school. But Morse said they do so only after getting permission from the school district.

The most recent suspension is Joseph Frederick's second since January. Frederick said he already has enough credits to graduate from high school, but he is taking three courses this semester. Being suspended for a total of 40 days makes it "pretty much impossible" to catch up on his school work, he said.

Superintendent Gary Bader upheld Frederick's suspension regarding the banner "Bong hits 4 Jesus" in late February after the student appealed it.

A bong is a device commonly used to smoke marijuana and other drugs. But Frederick said the phrase wasn't intended as a reference to drugs.

"I don't see it as meaning anything," Frederick said Thursday. "I see it as funny or ironic. I don't see a specific meaning."

At the time of the appeal, Bader said the banner appeared to advocate the use of illegal drugs. Frederick was represented by local attorney Doug Mertz, who was working in cooperation with the Alaska Civil Liberties Union.

During the period he was suspended, Frederick was arrested on a criminal-trespass charge in the parking lot of the city swimming pool next to JDHS. Suspended students aren't allowed on school property. Frederick said the pool lot wasn't included as school property in his suspension order.

Frederick said he never left his car, but school officials said they saw him behind the pool building, where the lot becomes a school driveway. Prosecutors dropped the charge.

Frederick said he will appeal his banner-related suspension to the Juneau School Board in a March 13 hearing, which will be public at his request. He is appealing because he wants the suspension removed from his school record.

Frederick said he will appeal the weapon-related suspension, as well. The school district has set a hearing with JDHS officials on March 14.

The school district's policy says students who violate the policy with a weapon other than a firearm will be suspended for at least 30 days, or expelled. The policy says all weapons incidents will be reported to police. But the policy also says such students will be suspended for a period appropriate to the nature of the offense. And it allows the superintendent and School Board to modify the discipline requirements.

Mertz, Frederick's attorney, couldn't be reached immediately for a comment.

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