Sanford, N.C. — 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.
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.”