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On The Front Lines

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case of 14-Year-Old Honor Student Expelled for Shooting Plastic ‘Spitwads,’ Lets Stand Lower Court Ruling

WASHINGTON, DC — The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a 14-year-old honor student who was suspended for shooting plastic “spitwads” while at school. In December 2010, freshman Andrew Mikel II was kicked out of Spotsylvania High School for the remainder of the school year under a charge that the “spitwad” incident constituted “violent criminal conduct” and possession of a weapon. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement for criminal prosecution. Although no one was harmed, the Spotsylvania County Circuit Court upheld the disciplinary action in May 2011. Insisting that Andrew’s conduct did not constitute “violent criminal conduct” and that the school’s actions violated Mikel’s constitutional guarantee of due process of law, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute pressed the case through the courts, concluding with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Rutherford Institute’s petition for certiorari in Mikel v. School Board is available here.

“There can be no justice in a nation where young people like Andrew Mikel have their futures senselessly derailed by school administrators lacking in both common sense and compassion,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “That the Supreme Court refused to hear Andrew’s case is a tragedy in itself, but by failing to intervene, the Court is legitimizing the perverse use of zero tolerance policies by school districts and the criminalization of America’s schoolchildren by teachers, administrators and police.”

On December 10, 2010, Andrew Mikel, a freshman at Spotsylvania High School, was sent to the principal’s office after shooting a handful of small, hollow pellets akin to plastic spitwads at fellow students during lunch period. Andrew, an honor student active in Junior ROTC and in his church, was initially suspended for 10 days and charged with criminal assault and possession of a weapon under the school’s Student Code of Conduct. The Spotsylvania County School Board later upheld the suspension of Mikel for the remainder of the school year. School officials also referred the matter to local law enforcement, which initiated juvenile criminal proceedings for assault. Andrew was then placed in a diversion program, and had to take substance abuse and anger management counseling.

Decrying the school’s actions as arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed a petition with the Circuit Court of the County of Spotsylvania asking the court to overturn the School Board’s decision. Although the Circuit Court ruled in favor of the school, it did acknowledge that it was “incongruous” that Andrew was suspended for the remainder of the year for spitwads while a student who punched someone in the eye could be suspended for only ten days. In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, Institute attorneys challenged the school’s characterization of Andrew’s actions as “criminal” and the spitwads as “weapons,” contending that there was no indication that Mikel intended to harm anyone and that the plastic tube and pellets did not rise to the level of “weapons” as defined by the school code.

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