Expelled student seeking to attend graduation

FOLLANSBEE – The Brooke County Board of Education was asked Monday to allow a high school student who has been removed from school for allegedly possessing a dangerous weapon to attend his commencement program.

As he addressed the board, attorney Larry Manypenny acknowledged he represented Brooke High School senior Joe Hood at a discipline hearing before the board earlier this year.

Without stating specifics, Manypenny asked the board to allow Hood to participate in the school’s May 22 commencement program with his twin sister, who also will be graduating.

He told the board he understands the need for rules but asked for an exception to be made under the circumstances.

Following the meeting, Manypenny confirmed Hood had worn to school a belt containing a knife in its buckle, causing the school district to take action against him. He declined to comment on the action but did say Hood had been removed from the school.

The West Virginia Safe Schools Act states a student possessing a dangerous weapon, which may include various knives, on school grounds must be expelled for at least 12 months.

Manypenny said Hood wasn’t aware there was a knife in his belt at the time and a school official involved said he believes that’s true.

He described Hood as “a good kid from the country” and confirmed school officials raised no previous violations by him at the discipline hearing.

The Safe Schools Act doesn’t specifically exclude violators from attending their commencements. But Manypenny said school officials have advised they have prohibited others under similar circumstances.

Board President James Piccirillo thanked Manypenny for his comments and said the board would take them under advisement.

He couldn’t be reached for comment following the meeting.

The board also heard from Leslie Harvath and Laura Perrone, parents of eighth-graders at Follansbee Middle School, who asked why the school’s request for an eighth-grade field trip to Kennywood was denied.

Field trips planned by Brooke County schools are funded by the schools or students but involve school bus transportation and some liability from the school district so they must be approved by the board.

Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said the school’s request never went before the board because it wasn’t accepted by board staff who found it didn’t meet certain criteria.

She and Piccirillo said in recent years the board adopted a policy stating field trips on school days should be scheduled so students may leave and return during regular school hours and should be educational in nature, while trips to amusement parks or ball games should be taken on Saturdays when possible.

Kidder-Wilkerson said the board made changes to its field trip policy because it was concerned classroom instructional time was lost because of field trips. She added requests for field trips normally are made at the start of each semester for which they are planned.

Harvath said the visit to Kennywood could be used to teach students about laws of physics related to roller coasters and other concepts. She added the eighth-graders haven’t had a field trip in three years, and because it has been an annual tradition, many were looking forward to it.

Another parent questioned a request for a trip to a bowling alley made by another school.

Kidder-Wilkerson said bowling meets educational objectives set for physical education classes and that trip also is a reward for positive behavior, meaning students who have violated the school’s positive behavior support program may not participate.

Keith Huntzinger, school improvement council co-chairman, asked the board to consider the request because there’s little time to schedule another trip.

The board also viewed excerpts from the school’s television news program presented as part of the school improvement council’s yearly report. Produced by pupils under the direction of teacher Richard Whitehead, the program included segments on activities held during Autism Awareness Week, classmates who have won competitions, the school’s sports teams and community service projects.

Michaelene Mills, principal, said a bench has been placed in the butterfly garden outside the school in memory of Hannah Mozingo, an eighth-grader who was killed in the Oct. 11 gas explosion that destroyed her family’s home.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)