2nd girl expelled for having spray Pikesville Middle pupil carried pepper device

April 29, 1996|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN STAFF

A second girl has run afoul of the Baltimore County public school policy that requires automatic expulsion for possession of pepper spray.

Kelly Butcher, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Pikesville Middle School, was expelled in early April after a classmate picked up Kelly's key chain, shook the small canister attached to it and sprayed it to see if anything was in it, Kelly's family said yesterday.

The circumstances were remarkably similar to those that led to the expulsion last month of Jodie Ulrich, a 17-year-old junior at Chesapeake High School in Essex.

"I had given Kelly my keys because there have been older boys waiting at the bus stop in the morning and bothering the girls," said her mother, Crystal Dennis. Kelly walks to a bus stop near the family's Owings Mills apartment complex and was nervous about the boys, Mrs. Dennis said.

"My daughter gave Kelly the keys with the spray," said Kelly's grandmother, Frances Tilghman, "and said, 'Here's what you do if they bother you.' My daughter gave it to her, not knowing she wasn't allowed to have it.

"I said, 'Crystal, you go to school and explain how she got it.' And anyway, she didn't do anything with it. It was the other young lady."

Mrs. Dennis said she was shocked when her daughter was expelled. "I cried through the whole hearing," she said.

She said Kelly was in the cafeteria at the end of the day and left her backpack on a table while she left the room. While she was gone, Mrs. Dennis said, another girl took the keys out and released the pepper spray.

"It's ludicrous that they would put my child out of school," Mrs. Dennis said.

"That other girl had no business picking it up and spraying it. I don't think they should kick them out. It was my fault, not hers."

She said the girls should be punished by having to do community service or something similar at school. She said her appeal of the decision, made by a hearing examiner, will be heard this week. The appeal will be heard by three representatives of the county school board.

Expelled students have the option of going to one of the county's alternative schools, going to evening school or having home teaching. Mrs. Dennis chose home teaching, and a county teacher visits Kelly two days a week.

Jodie Ulrich was expelled after she forgot to take the pepper spray off her key chain. She was attending a class at Dundalk Community College when another student picked up the canister and set it off in the cafeteria. A three-member county school board panel upheld the decision; her family is appealing to the state school board.

Her case has set off criticism that the policy is too strict because it cannot account for mitigating circumstances. On Friday, students at Chesapeake High School briefly walked out of school in protest. Though Chesapeake is Jodie's home school, no Chesapeake administrators were involved in the expulsion. She attends most of her classes at Southeast School of Technology, a vocational school, which arranged her Dundalk class.

Because Chesapeake has been identified as her school, the school has received a barrage of phone calls protesting the expulsion. Donald I. Mohler III, the school system's spokesman, said yesterday he wasn't surprised that another family had complained about the rule. He said the discussion should not be over the individuals involved, but whether there is widespread acceptance for the definition of pepper spray as a weapon.

The county school system has classified three categories of offenses. Under the first two, principals have discretion to suspend a student. Under the third, which includes possession of guns and pepper spray, they have no discretion. Expulsion is automatic.

"The facts of the case go before a hearing examiner," Mr. Mohler said, "and the ruling is based on the facts of the case. It can be appealed to a hearing of the school board. The superintendent is not involved."

The policy was adopted by the school board, he said, and all students get an explanation of it every year. They have to sign an acknowledgment of the policy, which is kept in their student records.

"We believe it has to be consistent, or it won't work," Mr. Mohler said.

"The hearing usually doesn't get into whether the child is a good child or not. These things are always painful. Every child matters, and you never walk out feeling good about a child being expelled."

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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