Jordan Wiser, a student at Ashtabula County Technical School in Jefferson, Ohio is rightfully confused after being being arrested for bringing a weapon into school. The “weapon” was a pocket knife that he had in his EMT medical vest . . . that was locked into the truck of his car. That’s right, in the latest example of the insane application of zero tolerance rules, the school officials called police after searching the trunk of a locked car to find a pocket knife used by a senior in his work as a EMT. He was then fed into a legal system that refused to show discretion in his prosecution. Notably, prosecutor Harold Specht ran for office based on a pledge that he would maintain a “hardline, zero tolerance policy” as a prosecutor. It was the perfect storm for Wiser: zero tolerance administrators handing a student over to a zero tolerance prosecutor. But it gets worse . . .
Wiser may now be barred from fulfilling his dream of joining the Army. School officials say that he consented to the search but Wiser insists that he declined to give consent and asked to speak to this parents or a lawyer. School officials searched the car and found the small folding knife and an airsoft gun. (The airsoft gun was legal and used in a school club). They say that they had probable cause after monitoring comments Wiser made on an online forum. They specifically referred to videos that Wiser posted on YouTube discussing home defense techniques and self-defense.
The police was called and the school moved to expel him.
He was then charged with an illegal conveyance of a weapon for the knife.
He then spent 13 days in the county jail. That’s right, 13 days.
He now must enroll in a special online program to complete his education.
We have previously followed the suspensions and discipline of students under zero tolerance policies that are used by teachers to justify zero judgment or responsibility. I have long criticized zero tolerance policies that have led to suspensions and arrests of children (here, here and here and here and here). Here is a prior column on the subject (and here).Children have been suspended or expelled for drawing stick figures or wearing military hats or bringing Legos shaped like guns or even having Danish in the shape of a gun. Despite the public outcry over the completely irrational and abusive application of zero tolerance rules, administrators and teachers continue to apply them blindly. If you do not have to exercise judgment, you can never been blamed for any failure. Conversely, even when the public outcry results in a reversals, teachers and administrators never seem punished with the same vigor for showing no judgment or logic in punishing a child.
The stripping away of fourth amendment rights of students parallels the same erosion of first amendment rights, as discussed in this recent column. We are increasingly raising the next generation in an environment of authoritarian learning.
To make matters even worse, the conditions of Wiser’s bond prohibit him from having contact with his grandfather at his home because of the presence of guns in the home. His grandfather is dying from cancer. The first judge ordered Wiser to be held on a half million-dollar bond and a psychological evaluation. He passed the exam but he was then hit with a $50,000 bond and an ankle monitor on Christmas Eve. It is important to remember that he is not charged with a conspiracy or threat against the school. The charge remains a four-inch folding knife in a vest in a trunk in a locked car in a parking lot outside of the school.
Once again, a student with a bright future has been victimized by school administrators who refuse to show an ounce of sense or humanity in the handling of children. What should have been a simple matter of a note to his parents was quickly elevated to an arrest and an expulsion. The police and prosecutor are no less at fault. Harold Specht, the chief assistant prosecutor at the Ashtabula County prosecutor’s office insisted in an interview that “We charge [people] with everything that we feel they are guilty of, and in this case, he is guilty of a felony.” Specht (right) shows the same robotic, uncaring approach of the administrators. What is lost is the welfare of this student and any element of logic. The incarceration of this boy for 13 days only magnifies the abuse. Yet, Specht insists that a trial will vindicate him and added “I know that there’s a load of people out here that just think we’re the devil because we’re allegedly ruining this young kid’s life . . . If this goes to trial, it will certainly come out in the wash.”
What is really scary is that Specht now wants to be a judge and is campaigning on his zero tolerance approach. He seems intent on convicting this young man to prove himself in the right. The kids has already been expelled, removed from this Army enrollment program, and forced into an online school. Yet, that is not enough for Specht. He wants to give him a felony record for a four-inch knife locked in the trunk of his car.
There should be discipline in this case, but it is not Wiser but the school officials, police, and prosecutors who produced this perfect nightmare.