Sanford, N.C. — In the wake of national attention garnered by a Sanford student suspended over a paring knife, the Lee County Board of Education has called an emergency meeting for Friday morning to discuss a student disciplinary issue.
Ashley Smithwick, 17, said Tuesday that she was suspended from Southern Lee High School in October after school personnel found a small paring knife in her lunchbox. She was charged recently with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds.
Smithwick, a basketball and soccer player who takes college-level courses, said school personnel found the knife while searching the belongings of several students for drugs. She said she mistakenly took her father's lunchbox to school, noting that they have identical lunchboxes and that he often packs a paring knife to slice an apple at work.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss issued a statement Wednesday to say that the 3-inch-long knife was found in Smithwick's purse, not her lunchbox. He also denied her claim that she had been suspended for the rest of the school year.
"She is currently enrolled as a student at the school," Moss said.
A disciplinary contract signed last month by Smithwick, her mother, Southern Lee High Principal Bonnie Almond and Moss states, however, that Smithwick cannot "physically access SLHS campus for the remainder of the 2010-2011 school year."
The contract also calls for her to complete her English and pre-calculus classes through an online program offered by Southern Lee High and the rest of her classes at Central Carolina Community College through an agreement between the high school and the college.
"If she was an actual enrolled student, then why is she not allowed to access the school campus or use any of the resources that she would need for classes?" her mother, Heidi Smithwick, asked Thursday.
Heidi Smithwick said she has tried repeatedly to call Moss since her daughter's suspension to discuss the situation but hasn't been able to reach him.
"Two months later, we receive a criminal summons for the paring knife," she said.
She said she and her husband never wanted the media attention for their daughter's situation. They only wanted to resolve the matter with school officials.
"I do feel it is my responsibility to protect her and salvage some sort of future that she could have," Heidi Smithwick said.