Local News

Lunchbox mix-up leads to charges for Sanford student

Posted December 28, 2010
Updated December 30, 2010

— An athletic and academic standout in Lee County said a lunchbox mix-up has cut short her senior year of high school and might hurt her college opportunities.

Ashley Smithwick, 17, of Sanford, was suspended from Southern Lee High School in October after school personnel found a small paring knife in her lunchbox.

Smithwick said personnel found the knife while searching the belongings of several students, possibly looking for drugs.

“She got pulled into it. She doesn’t have to be a bad person to be searched,” Smithwick’s father, Joe Smithwick, said.

The lunchbox really belonged to Joe Smithwick, who packs a paring knife to slice his apple. He and his daughter have matching lunchboxes.

“It’s just an honest mistake. That was supposed to be my lunch because it was a whole apple,” he said.

Ashley Smithwick said she had never gotten in trouble before and was surprised when the principal opened her lunchbox and found the knife.

Smithwick was initially given a 10-day suspension, then received notice that she was suspended the rest of the school year.

"I don’t understand why they would even begin to point the finger at me and use me as an example," she said.

This month, Ashley Smithwick, a soccer player who takes college-level courses, was charged with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds. She is no longer allowed to set foot on campus.

“They made it sound like it was a big ol’ buck knife that you’re out here hunting with,” Joe Smithwick said.

Darla Cole, the chief school resource officer in Lee County, told WRAL News she could not comment on the case.

Lee County Superintendent Jeff Moss told the Sanford Herald that he can’t discuss the specifics of the case, but school policy allows principals to consider the context of each case and determine discipline.

Ashley Smithwick Sanford teen suspended over knife

Moss said students who accidentally carry a weapon and report it to teachers will get a light punishment. If teachers find it, he said, the discipline is harsher.

“When the principals conduct their investigations, what typically is fleshed out is the true intent,” he told the newspaper. “Bottom line is we want to ensure every child feels safe on our campus.”

Ashley Smithwick is completing her coursework online through Central Carolina Community College. She said she worries the case will affect her college prospects.

“When you have a criminal record no school’s going to look at you,” she said. “I have a pretty nice talent. I’m good at playing soccer and that talent is just wasted now.”


This story is closed for comments.

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  • lorimathilda Dec 31, 2010

    If this is the type of thinking her school officials are capable of it's no wonder that the public school system is going down the drain.

  • Mr. Sensible Dec 31, 2010

    Tell them school officials to get real or get lost.

  • stevelappe Dec 31, 2010

    Lee County, NC so glad I don't live there anymore.

  • Independent Conservative Dec 31, 2010

    originaldave- was the superintendent there? If not, then he gets his information like you and I; second hand. So what the superintendent told you was hearsay. So when did you talk to hm personally?

  • Independent Conservative Dec 31, 2010

    idogphart- The lunch box was inside her purse, the paring knife was in the lunch box. I heard it from a direct source. Now where I stand, which is on the outside, I get updates from the family, how about you? If you know anything about purses these days, they can hold a full wash load of clothes. Let's use common sense. If I had a gym bag, and my wallet was in my bag, and someone asked me for $10, I would tell them, "let me get my wallet", or "it's in my wallet in my gym bag", or "it's in my gym bag". It's all semantics and generalizations.

  • theoriginaldave Dec 30, 2010

    The superintendent tells me that the story is in error, the knife was found in the girls purse which was with her, not in her lunch bag in her locker. Furthermore she is not in long term suspension but is currently registered and able to attend school.

  • brystler Dec 30, 2010

    Have the kitchen knifes been taken away from the Lunch Ladies in the kitchen? I sure hope so, and if not, then I'm sure the school in all it's wisdom has definitely suspended the Lunch Ladies as well...

  • whistler411 Dec 30, 2010


    T.L.O vs. New Jersey - Supreme Court stated that children in public schools don't have the same expectation of privacy as citizens outside public schools, and that school administrators don't have to meet the same probable cause or warrant requirements as police do for the general public. The school was well within the right to search her under this precedent.
    I'm sure now they wish they would have just walked right by her......

  • sdtangler Dec 30, 2010

    What's happened to us all? When we were kids, this would NEVER have happened. We've thrown away all common sense in the name of "safety". How many kids have actually been stabbed by a knife at this school? Has this been such a problem, that these draconian actions are necessary? No, it's probably because we've let FEAR guide our actions. I'm ashamed that this is happening in my America.

  • larrytxeast Dec 30, 2010

    This is zero tolerance run amok. Mix-ups happen, big deal. As for "rules are rules"--horse-puckey. That's just legalism. If respect for authority is going to be the expectation, it goes hand-in-hand with the authority figures being decent & not a bunch of Pharisee-like rule-book thumpers.

    Hopefully this smart young woman will grow up to be someone who can make a difference and undo much of the insanity zero-tolerance run amok has wrought.