School board: Media 'inaccurate' about student's suspension

Posted December 31, 2010

— The Lee County Board of Education blasted the media on Friday for what it called "inaccurate" coverage of a Sanford student who was suspended for bringing a paring knife to school.

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.

The school board held an emergency closed session meeting Friday to discuss the matter, which has garnered national attention.

"The Lee County Board of Education is legally prohibited from releasing details and commenting on this student discipline matter further. The Board, however, contends strenuously that the related television and newspaper articles are inaccurate and that all relevant laws and board policies were adhered to and followed," the board said in a statement.

The school board said it "will be glad to comment further on this matter if the student and her parents will provide the Lee County Board of Education a written release of the school records."

Smithwick's mother, Heidi Smithwick, said Friday that she's not ready to say whether she wants to release Ashley's records.

"My job is to protect Ashley. It's the board's job to give her a quality educational experience," she said.

Heidi Smithwick is working to retain an attorney for her daughter's upcoming court date, but declined to say if she plans legal action against the school system.

Ashley 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," he said.

On Friday, Moss said it was "disingenuous of the media" to ask questions about a specific student since the media knows state law prohibits him from talking about the disciplinary record of any student.

ashley smithwick Lee County school board blasts media

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.


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  • lovexthatkid Jan 6, 2011

    Too bad most of you don't even know the whole story! I went to school with her. She was hardly ever at school constantly forging her moms signature to leave school early. She is a pathological liar. She told me herself that she lies about everything. They can't release her records but this girl has gotten caught smoking outside of our school. This is the same girl who had her boyfriend living with her and her parents didn't even know. You guys should probably look into this stuff before you go off defending someone you don't even know. Maybe you should ask some of the students that go to the school! -Sincerely, Student from SLHS

  • edbuck51 Jan 5, 2011

    I agree with you twc, as the future of our country ,this young lady can see first hand some the changes that need to be made and she seems destined to be a leader

  • sidlizzy Jan 4, 2011

    Before you go assuming the girl and her family have something to hide, please do a little background check on this superintendent and the principal at this school. Just ask any teacher who has has the "pleasure" to work with this insane principal. After you find out about them, this stunt they have pulled will make sense. Its not about the policy, its about bad administrators. This is not uncommon in this county.

  • rodneyandson Jan 4, 2011

    Lee County school board had never been forthcoming with any information. They will always hide behind the law.

  • TAGS Jan 3, 2011

    This is why TOO MUCH government is a BAD thing. Let's all agree that taking the knife was wrong...okay, she broke the law. But let's get real, if she really wanted to do harm to someone, whether she is a good girl or bad girl, "she ain't gonna do much" with that 3 inch knife. Doesn't this sound remotely similar to the TSA screeners. Again, "Government Gone Bad"(Hmmm....maybe a new reality TV show). We had muslim extremists trying to blow up planes and we won't "profile" them but yet we'll "pat down" grandma. We have kids taking assault weapons to schools to "kill" others and we're prosecuting a young girl with a 3 inch paring knife (I have one of those knives and the blade is barely visible). Sad thing is, we feel good about ourselves that we've stopped crime. The whole issue is "government bureaucrats" who can't think for themselves but only follow some law passed by another set of bureaucrats. Our "Founding Fathers" are rolling over in their graves, yet again.....

  • methinks Dec 31, 2010

    Umm, the charges did not come from the School or the School Board. they came from the DA's office. Which means she violated the law and he has the evidence to prove it. Schools have nothing to do with this. The school resource officer is the one that conducted the criminal investigation and he/she is the one who filed the necessary paper work. Again, this girl violated the rules and she needs to accept her punishment. These are federal laws mandated by the federal government. It is a felony to have a weapon on school grounds.

  • twc Dec 31, 2010

    This may have unintended positive consequences for Ashley. Maybe this will encourage her to get a law degree.

    After her lawyer finishes with Lee County she may be going pro in something other than sports.

  • twc Dec 31, 2010

    methinks, Patrick Henry, wouldn't think much of your opinion.


    Any object capable of being readily used by one person to inflict severe bodily injury upon another person; and for such a weapon to have been used, it must be proved that the person not only possessed the weapon but that he intentionally displayed it in some manner while carrying out the forcible assault. "

    I've seen no evidence of where she used the paring knife as a weapon.

  • jazin17 Dec 31, 2010

    Ashley is still enrolled at SLHS in name only. If a student completes any online classes they have to be enrolled in their base school. Partnership between colleges and high school mandate student be enrolled. However, she is not allowed to set foot on SLHS campus.. SLHS/Lee County administration team is known to be nothing but liars. Ashley's parents made this public after their child was charged criminally. It seems as if she was going to go along with suspension and took action when she was charged criminally. The charges will continue to follow her on college and employment applications. She should continue to fight....

  • methinks Dec 31, 2010

    I don't agree with the "Zero Tolerance" policy. i think it is ridiculous and does take common sense out of the schools and administrators. HOWEVER, the policy is there now and it should be applied accordingly. That is the policy. Now if it were not the policy then yes, this girl's background, school record, grades, sports, etc should be considered when dealing out her punishment. But it isn't and she should take her punishment and be quiet. that is the whole point. Follow the rules no matter who you are.