School officials deny Sanford student's story of suspension

Posted December 29, 2010 5:55 p.m. EST
Updated December 30, 2010 6:04 p.m. EST

— Lee County Schools officials say a Sanford student's claim that she was given a long-term suspension from her high school after personnel found a knife in her lunchbox is false.

Ashley Smithwick, 17, of Sanford, told WRAL News on Tuesday that she 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 said the lunchbox really belonged to her father, 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 on Tuesday. 

Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss said in a statement on Wednesday that the 3-inch-long knife was found in the Smithwick's purse, not her lunchbox. The search was conducted on Oct. 20 after a faculty member at the school discovered a student on campus with marijuana.

Moss also denied Smithwick's claim that she was issued a long-term suspension over the incident. 

"She is currently enrolled as a student at the school," Moss said. 

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

"Over two months after the event, it is a mystery to us that the Smithwick’s concerns were not brought to our attention by the family through normal appeal procedures prior to going to the press," Moss said.

Smithwick said she is completing her coursework online through Central Carolina Community College.

This month, she was charged with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds.