An 11-year-old girl is serving a six-day suspension for sharing a peach with her classmate. School officials defending the punishment say that the middle school student violated their weapon policy.
But her parents point out that this 'weapon' is intended for toddlers to use.
As ABC 10 News reports, the incident occurred in the cafeteria of Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Asked by a friend if she would share her peach, the girl used a knife from her lunchbox to cut the fruit in half. Shortly after, she found herself in the principal's office, being coined a “threat” to her fellow students.
School officials say the honor roll student violated a district rule by bringing the knife to school. Her parents, however, find it nonsensical that their daughter's small, dull butter knife qualifies as a “weapon.” Andrea Souto, the girl's mother, explains to ABC 10 that the knife in question is considered safe for babies:
“This is a set of a spoon, fork, and knife [is] for toddlers— one-year-old[s]. It is made for children to learn how to eat properly. She's used it since she was baby.”
The Soutos say that the experience has been difficult for their daughter. Usually a generous girl who's eager to share and help others, she is now fearful about making another mistake. Ronald Souto tells ABC 10:
“She's afraid now of the educators. She's afraid of people at school. They need to change the system.”
A spokeswoman for the Broward Country school district, however, says that the school was simply following their policy on weapons.
Now, the girl's parents are concerned that their daughter's use of a toddler knife may lead to criminal charges. The local police department says their investigation of the incident has been turned over to the State Attorney's Office. The school has also given the confiscated knife to prosecutors as evidence.
Larry Meltzer, the Souter's attorney, puts the blame on the school board for not intervening. He tells ABC 10 that it's the board's responsibility to protect a model student from such an absurd result:
“The school board has abused its discretion to act in this case. It is tragic that a school that this little girl loves sees fit to prosecute and suspend her — the epitome of a model and honor roll student — for using a child-proof utensil that could never be construed in any form as a weapon in order to share part of her lunch with a fellow classmate.”
Ronald Souter remains bewildered that the incident would go this far. He believes the situation was crying out for a more rational approach.
Souter's position is shared by other parents who think the school overreacted. Melvin Smith, whose grandson is also a student at the school, has a simple solution:
“I think the principal should revisit this and everyone (should) sit down to the table, and let's just say, 'Don't do it again.' This is outrageous to go to that extreme.”
The school later reduced the suspension to three days, but to the parents of the girl (who point out that the infraction will stay on her record), it wasn't enough.