Saturday, January 23, 2010

Student Expulsion Overturned

Orland Press Register, January 22 2010

Gary Tudesko can go back to Willows High School Monday.

The Glenn County Board of Education overturned the high school junior's expulsion for having shotguns and ammunition in his pickup truck on a street next to, but not on, the high school campus.

The board held the appeal hearing on Tuesday. It announced its decision Friday morning.

"I'm excited. I want to go back to school as soon as I can. I can't wait for the first day to be right back in there," Tudesko said.

In addition to reversing the Willows Unified School District board's decision, the county trustees ordered Tudesko's expulsion be removed from the school record.

It also ordered "any costs incurred by the pupil or his parents be reimbursed by the district.

The county board ruled the district had "acted in excess of its jurisdiction" because the act "did not occur on school grounds or at a school activity."

Furthermore, the county board stated that Tudesko did not have an opportunity for a "fair hearing" before the district board, because he "was not provided timely written notice of all evidence...."

The board also found "prejudicial abuse of discretion by the district" because it failed to show how other discipline choices were not feasible, or that Tudesko was a "continuing danger to the physical safety of the student and others."

The final finding stated that the board "need not reach a determination" about whether relevant and material evidence existed or "was improperly excluded at the hearing before the district governing board."

GCOE board president Judy Holzapfel reported that the trustees had met for about three hours between sessions on Thursday night and Friday morning.

"We felt it extremely important to get this correct and in the proper order," she said to a room filled with Willows Unified school administrators and Tudesko supporters, including several NRA representatives, at least one from Washington, D.C.

Willows High Principal Mort Geivett's reaction to the reversal was disappointment.

"I'm disappointed, but not surprised, due to the political climate we have here and the fact we have school board members who are going up for re-election and a superintendent who might be running for re-election," he said.

"And, the fact they had to face folks who are avid hunters. In this community, you have to dig down deep to stand up and do the right thing," he added.

Of greater concern, Geivett said, is "the decision clearly compromises the safety and security of kids and staff members on my campus and this clearly goes beyond Willows High."

Willows Unified Superintending Steve Olmos' response was one of confusion.

The decision "has left me dumbfounded, almost speechless," he said.

The county board "is undermining our authority. They are definitely saying we don't have jurisdiction off campus," he complained.

"We are even responsible for monitoring students in cyber space," he said, noting that school are expected to keep an eye out for cyber bullying, which does not have to happen on school grounds.

Still, the overriding concern among school administrators is safety.

Olmos said the county board said in its ruling that Tudesko "can park in that spot with guns in his truck and, my concern, is that other people will know or believe he has guns near school. And you never know what other people may do."

He also noted that two city streets go through campus, which means students have to cross city streets to go from class to class.

He questioned whether the Board of Education's ruling means the school does not have jurisdiction when students are on those streets.

Tudesko's mother, Susan Parisio, said "I'm so relieved. It's been such a long, long battle."

It was a battle Tudesko has said he did not want to pursue, but his mother thought it was important.

And apparently, gun rights adovates agreed.

Tudesko's appeal, presented by Long Beach attorneys C.K. "Chuck" Michel and Hillary Green, was funded in part by the National Rifle Association's and the California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation's combined Legal Action Project.

Michel and Assoc. specializes in firearms, environmental, land use and employment law.

At a press conference following the Board of Education's ruling, Michel said he was pleased with the decision.

"We want to keep kids safe," but he said school administrators "need to know the difference between a good kid and a bad kid."

Referring to the 340 school-related shootings since 1994, Michel said, arguing there is a big difference between those shooters and young hunters.

Tudesko and a friend had been duck hunting prior to the start of school on the day two shotguns were discovered in his truck by detection dogs.

"We don't want anymore tragedies on campuses. But we have to have common sense," Michel said.

Olmos could not say whether the district will take the ruling to court. He and the school board will have weigh the options before deciding what to do next.

"If they'll stay out of court, we'll stay out of court," Michel countered.

County Superintendent of Schools Arturo Barerra did not participate in the board's closed sessions,

At Tuesday's appeal hearing, Willows Unified attorney Matt Juhl-Darlington, who did not attend Friday's meeting, had asked the board to exclude the Barerra because of previous issues between he and Olmos.

The board denied that request.

Still, Olmos thought the board made a political decision.

"Unfortunately I think it did," Olmos said.

The county board members declined to comment on their decision.

Thankfully, sanity does prevail! The county board's decision is a stern reprimand of the school's almost totalitarian attitude regarding its students. It's hardly surprising to hear the superintendent whining about how they don't have jurisdiction off campus; whoever these people are, they seem to like running their little empire. They're also in flat denial that they even DO have limits to their authority; they complain that this decision was politically motivated.

It's good to see that justice can be served, but from the school board's attitude nothing is going to change. This sort of thing should never have had to go to court in the first place.

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