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The trouble with box cutters

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You can't carry a Bic lighter on an airplane anymore, but apparently it's perfectly OK to take a box cutter to class at District 20's Academy International Elementary School.

That is the lesson that Vernita Hare, Doug Frank and several other parents learned when they raised a stink about a third-grade student who, after months of allegedly physically attacking and even sexually harassing several fellow third-graders, brought the above-described box cutter to school.

Last week, Frank detailed his frustrations over the situation. He says he and other parents have repeatedly heard stories about the boy who, since the start of the school year, has allegedly been a source of constant disruption, including violent outbursts.

Girls have reported that he passed them notes saying he wanted to have sex with them, Frank says; the boy allegedly referred to one girl as his "woman." There have been other instances in which the boy has exhibited what one parent describes as "a frighteningly mature nature" for a 9-year-old.

In March, Frank's daughter reported seeing a box cutter fall out of the boy's pocket. She told a grown-up. Frank says a school official called him at work to let him know what had happened, and that although his daughter was very upset, everything was fine.

The official, Frank says, would not tell him what was to happen to the boy except that he could not be expelled. The box cutter was not an expressly prohibited weapon, because it neither had a 3-inch blade, which would legally define it as a knife under Colorado Revised Statutes, nor had been used to expressly threaten anyone.

"They were very tight-lipped about it, but this child needed help, and the other children need to be protected," Frank says. "My goal here is not to bring down the walls of Jericho; [D-20 is] a great school district, but I'm seeing a disturbing trend that they want to keep things in the hush and hush."

Word of the box-cutter incident spread, he says, like wildfire. Parents were infuriated when they attempted to seek resolution with school officials. Finally, at last week's school board meeting, Hare, speaking as the designated representative from the third-grade community, took the parents' concerns directly to the board members.

"We have attempted to resolve this matter through proper channels, but have received nothing but bureaucratic stonewalling and a snide suggestion that if we don't feel our child is safe, we should move her to a different class," Hare said.

The elected officials politely listened to the presentation and moved on.

Reached at his home on Friday, board member Doug Lundberg referred all calls to board president Vicki Taylor. "She speaks for the board," Lundberg said.

A message left on Taylor's home machine was returned by Nanette Anderson, the district's public relations officer.

Anderson refused to explain what steps, if any, have been taken to address the situation at Academy International. She did confirm that the boy in question was no longer at the school, but said she doesn't know where he's gone. All student discipline issues, she said, are private and "between the administration and the board."

In fact, Anderson would not acknowledge the incident involving the unidentified third-grade student had even occurred. Nor would she, speaking generally, clarify whether students at any District 20 school can take box cutters to school or not. "I will only confirm that it was the parent's claim that a box cutter was brought to the school," she said.

Ultimately, Anderson cited Colorado law, which legally defines a knife as having a 3-inch blade or 3 inches, if is spring-loaded or a pocketknife.

Apparently, that means carrying a box cutter to school is at least legally acceptable, and certainly not a weapon. Or, as Anderson puts it so bureaucratically: "The item in question in the incident that [Hare refers] to does not meet this definition."

Who knows what, if anything, that third-grade boy actually had planned to do with the box cutter. At least it wasn't a Bic lighter.

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