The September 7th Discipline Hearing for Student J at Smyrna Middle School had two very big witnesses about to testify. After Smyrna Middle School Associate Principal John Camponelli and Principal Steve Gott gave their testimony, it was time for the Smyrna School District Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams to testify in the discipline hearing against student J. J’s entire future depended on what happened next.
DiRocco: Mr. Williams, what’s your position with the School District?
Williams: Assistant Superintendent, Smyrna School District.
DiRocco: And are you familiar with J?
Williams: I’m familiar with J through this case, yes.
DiRocco: Okay. How did you become aware of incidents concerning J’s conduct towards P?
Williams: I was advised by Principal Steven Gott that this incident had occurred.
DiRocco: Okay. And what was the recommendation from Principal Gott that you received?
Williams: Once Principal Gott came to the conclusion, based on his investigation, that J had done what he was accused of doing, Mr. Gott recommended an expulsion.
DiRocco: Okay. I’m going to show you… I’m going to give you a copy of the code, and we will mark it as Exhibit 12.
(marking the exhibit)
DiRocco: Okay. Are you familiar with the code of conduct for students in the district?
DiRocco: Okay. Can you turn to Page 15 of the code?
DiRocco: And the very top, there is a section “hate crimes.” Can you read to me what… how that’s defined?
Williams: Yes. Hate crimes, C0151: Harassment is any actions or statements that intimidate, offend, or defame the dignity or self esteem of individuals or groups. Harassment may include, but is not limited to: Verbal harassment or abuse, repeated remarks or jokes with demeaning implications, or other offensive behavior. Harassment also includes intimidating, offensive or defaming behavior, or materials directed at an individual because of that individual’s race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or religion.
DiRocco: Okay. Did J make actions or statements that intimidated, offended, or defamed the dignity or self esteem of another student?
DiRocco: Did J verbally harass another student by making repeated remarks or jokes with demeaning implications or other offensive behavior?
DiRocco: Did he engage in intimidating, offensive, or defaming behavior directed at another student because of that individual’s national origin or religion?
DiRocco: Did the student victim indicate that she was intimidated an offended by his conduct?
DiRocco: Is expulsion permitted for a first-time violation under the code for hate crimes?
DiRocco: Okay. And that’s in the first column. So the first column under hate crimes that is the discipline that is permitted for a first-time offense; is that correct?
DiRocco: Okay. And then at the bottom we see possible disciplinary, expulsion?
DiRocco: Okay. Does J’s conduct indicate that he presents a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of students and staff at the District?
DiRocco: And why is that?
Williams: Anytime a student or group of students feels unsafe, using P’s words from earlier, or feels that she has been victimized by an intentional act defined as a hate crime, anytime the administration and the school resource officer, whose job is not only to investigate but also educate students to help them avoid hate crimes, anytime all of those pieces fall into place… and in this case they have… and J committed a hate crime even after getting all of the intervention provided by the school… and at least on student, in P’s words, is fearful of coming to school and chooses to remove a sacred symbol of her religious faith, that absolutely meets the definition of endangering the health, safety ,and welfare of others.
DiRocco: So what is the District’s recommendation concerning the discipline for J as a result of those incidents?
Williams: The recommendation is an expulsion for 180 school days with educational services provided in an alternative setting. And, as I understand, Mr. Gott also is mandating some sensitivity and tolerance education, training, and counseling.
DiRocco: And do you agree with that recommendation?
Williams: Yes, I do.
DiRocco: Okay. Was J and his parents notified or made aware of the Student Code of Conduct?
(marking Student Code of Conduct as an exhibit)
DiRocco: And this Exhibit Number 15, is this an acknowledgment signed by J or… I’m sorry… yeah, the signature of student J and signature of parent?
Powell: Number 13.
DiRocco: Sorry. Exhibit 13. Is that the acknowledgment from the parent and the student also?
(another exhibit marked)
DiRocco: I just put this in for the Board and the hearing officer to have as background information from the student. But can you just, you know, give me a quick summary of what this information includes?
Williams: Yes. This is a student profile taken from the State database known as E-School Plus. And it captures information about each student who is enrolled and attending Smyrna School District schools. In this packet specifically we have the demographic information and address and parent information. We have the scheduling. We have the summary of discipline. We have another copy of the schedule. We have a summary of report card grades. We have a student attendance report. We have a page dedicated to 504 information. In this case there is none. We have academic background information. And then the latter part of the packet encompasses a printout showing the student intervention detail.
(marking more exhibits)
DiRocco: Mr. Williams, were J and his parents notified of the hearing for today?
DiRocco: Can you tell me, are those letters that were sent out to the parents notifying them of the hearing?
Williams: Yes, they are.
DiRocco: So there are three letters. It was rescheduled, I think, a couple of times.
DiRocco: And then it was set for today?
Williams: Yes. Would you like me to give a background, or no?
Williams: All right. Certainly. We scheduled it initially, a notice dated May 11th for a hearing on June 1. Spoke with Mrs. J’s mom prior to that date, and she requested a continuance so that her attorney might attend. We certainly accommodated that. Our next scheduled date, I advised Mrs. J’s mom via e-mail and, subsequent to the e-mail, sent a notification certified mail dated June 14th that one month from that date, July 14th, would be the next date of the hearing. And then on July 14th, we convened and continued the hearing because Mrs. J’s mom and her family were a no-show. And so we sent a third notice dated July 20th, and we noted that the date of the hearing would be today, September 7th, at 11:15am.
I am making a very pointed reference to the below letters sent from Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams due to a significant change in wording on the 2nd pages on different dates:
If you look at the second pages of each letter, #3b has different wording between the two. On the first one it states, “To request the names of witnesses against the student, and copies of the statements, if any of such witness.” But on the second one, it states, “To request the names of witnesses against the student, and copies of the statements, if any, of such witnesses. Names of minors will not be disclosed without express written consent of the parent(s) or guardian(s). ” This plays out after the discipline hearing for a very specific reason which WILL come up in the next part, but it is important to address it now. Back to the hearing…
DiRocco: I don’t have any further questions for Mr. Williams.
Powell: Okay Ms. J’s mom, did you have any questions for Mr. Williams?
J’s mother: Yes. As far as the no-show, I’m confused about that. But I will look over that. But my question is P had stated that J was raising his hand towards the sky, called it a Nazi thing. Would that be against the student… the code of conduct for a student to say another one is acting like a Nazi because they are raising their hand in class? I mean, that’s on the report.
Williams: Could you repeat that question? I’m sorry.
J’s mother: Okay. She states that because J was raising his arm to the sky, that he was doing a Nazi thing. A Nazi? She called him… well, at least doing Nazi things. So wouldn’t that be against the student conduct to call…
Williams: Are you asking me if that’s a hate crime? Is that what you are asking me? I don’t understand that question.
J’s mother: Sure. Sure.
J’s mother: No?
J’s mother: Okay. And I actually… I don’t have any other questions for Mr. Williams, but I do have one for Mr. Gott if I can ask.
DiRocco: I don’t have any objection to that.
J’s mother: Okay. G… you have a statement here… is actually going to court with us. And even though he wrote this down, this was after the fact in May when this was written. And by this time, he had known what the whole conversation, what was going on and why J was in trouble, because he said the word “terrorist” in a conversation. And that’s why he wrote this statement. But he actually didn’t hear J say anything. I just wanted to point that out.
Gott: Why would he write that down? Why would he tell me that, then?
J’s mother: Um…
Gott: This is the day I spoke to him on the fourth (of May), so I’m not sure what he heard prior to this, because I have not spoken to anyone prior to this date.
J’s mother: Right. But it was a conversation. I’m assuming it’s the same way that the home ec thing happened. But just to say he is going to court with us, and he states that he didn’t hear anything, that at this point he already knew what was going on.
Gott: Okay. I’m not sure why he would tell me that he overheard him and then wrote it down.
J’s mother: But I do believe that he spoke with one of you just this past week and stated just that, that he didn’t hear anything. So I just wanted to point that out.
DiRocco: I have a follow-up question, then, since the question, another question has been asked of Mr. Gott, if that’s okay.
DiRocco: Mrs. J’s mom was just asking you about a statement from…
DiRocco: …a G. Is G J’s cousin?
Gott: He is.
DiRocco: I don’t have any other questions. And the district doesn’t have any other witnesses to present.
Powell: Then, Mrs. J’s mom, do you have any witnesses that you want to…
J’s mother: It’s just J.
DiRocco: Just to, I just need to tell you, because you are not represented by an attorney, you do have a criminal hearing pending, so anything he says is under oath. This is transcribed. So I just want you to know that as my ethical duty, because you are not represented by counsel.
J’s mother: Totally understand. Okay. J, the day in home ec, were you referring to P or pointing at P when you and your friends were talking about the discussion with guns and smelling gunpowder?
J: No, I was not.
J’s mother: Did you mention a refrigerator?
J’s mother: Or that it was coming from a refrigerator?
J: I never stated that.
J’s mother: Okay. And let’s go on to the day that you are walking in the hallway. Did you call P a terrorist?
J: No, I did not.
J’s mother: Then what did you say?
J: Me and (other student), the other boy walking down the hall, were talking about the carnival. And he said something similar to terrorist. And I was concerned that he did say terrorist, and I asked him if he said terrorist. And P heard me ask him if he said terrorist. And I’m assuming that she heard me say terrorist and thought that I was calling her a terrorist.
J’s mother: So exactly what did you say?
J: “I was not talking to you.”
J’s mother: And in aspect to the terrorist, what was that that you said?
J: “Did you say terrorist?”
J’s mother: And you were speaking to your friends?
J’s mother: Okay. Okay. So do you feel any kind of way towards P at all about her religion or?
J: No. I don’t care about her religion. I don’t even know who she is. I know her name. I have no background with her friends, nothing.
J’s mother: So totally everything that you have said to her is what, like in all, altogether when… so you are telling me the first day that you spoke directly to her was in that hallway?
J’s mother: And you said?
J: “I was not talking to you.”
J’s mother: Okay. Do you have anything else you want to add?
J: I do not.
DiRocco: I have just one question for J. But I need… I don’t know what exhibit number, but there is… it’s titled… it’s a statement written by J, the 11/4/15.
Gott: One of the first ones, Mr. Powell.
(Powell gets the exhibit)
DiRocco: So if you could refer to District’s Exhibit Number 6. And I’m going to put a copy right in front of J. And I just ask you, is that your written statement?
DiRocco: And is that your signature on the bottom? Did you write your name at the top there?
DiRocco: Okay. And the date says 11/4/15. Do you recall giving that written statement?
DiRocco: Okay. I don’t have any other questions. You can keep it.
J’s mother: Well, I don’t have any questions… anymore questions for anybody. But I do have something I would like to share just to show what kind of student J is. I don’t know where it is now.
(discussion about marking the interview between P and Detective Weller with an actual exhibit number)
J’s mother: I don’t have… I only have the one set. But just to show what kind of a student J is and just kid in general, 6/5/14 and June 9, 2015, these are awards that got two previous years, two both previous years before this one, one for being the funniest kid. And this one for being class clown. That’s what kind of a kid he is. He is not intentionally… you can pass it down, or I don’t know exactly what to do with it or…
(marking it as an exhibit)
J’s mother: So I hand those to you. And I just… it’s unfair to J, because he is not that kind of kid. He is not mean. He doesn’t bully.
(DiRocco marks it as a student exhibit)
J’s mother: And I just think that expelling him out of school isn’t fair. And I don’t think I even need to point out that she wasn’t wearing her hijab today or hasn’t since school started so… and J is not even in school. So I don’t think it’s about my son at all. And she has already had issues with another teacher, a substitute teacher, and issues with students in other schools. JBM, as a matter of fact, is what it said. So I’m just kind of confused now why this is going to ruin my son’s life when it’s obviously a problem. Maybe she is a little oversensitive. And that’s all I have to say about it.
DiRocco: Can I make a brief closing?
Powell: Yes. And you will be able to make a closing too, Mrs. J’s mom.
J’s mother: Okay.
DiRocco: We have heard testimony today from a number of witnesses. We heard from the student victim who testified about three different incidents, one time in class that she did not report anything to the school administrators where an offensive comment was made, Allah Akbar, and then also she said that J made some kind of a hand movement that was a Hitler-type of gesture that offended her. And then also on November 4, 2015, in class she testified about… and we heard… we watched the video with the police officer where she talked about an incident where he made a comment that there was a terrorist in here making bombs, and I can smell it, and which was directed towards her. And then April 20, 2016, there was an incident that she testified about in the hallway where he again called her a terrorist in school. So those are the incidents that took place. She is upset. She is frightened. She feels unsafe. She no longer wears her hijab to school because she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself because it has made her feel unsafe, and it has caused her to feel threatened and intimidated. We did hear testimony from the Detective Weller, who testified that there are criminal charges pending, including a felony. We heard from Mr. Camponelli and Mr. Gott, who investigated the incidents and came to the conclusion that he had violated the code of conduct, and at this point there is a recommendation for expulsion. Then we heard from Mr. Williams, who walked us through the code of conduct violation on Page 15 of the code, which is a hate crime, and how J’s conduct has met that definition of a hate crime. So all of the evidence in this case indicates that J’s conduct constitutes a hate crime, which is an egregious violation of the code of conduct. And as a result, you know, he has been charged with a crime. He has engaged in conduct that indicates he poses a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of other students and staff. And the District does need to protect the students and staff. And the administration recommends expulsion for 180 days with alternative placement.
DiRocco: Thank you.
Powell: Okay. Are you done?
J’s mother: Okay. It’s been two times that were reported. There is no third time. There is no proof of a third time. It’s just… this is just an oversensitive student, and none of this is true. This isn’t… I’m just blown away. And as far as the mom goes, and here is another picture that you can keep, too. This is three days after they were at the police department when she was wearing her hijab. So, honestly, I think they are just looking for a reason to sue the School District and using my son to do it. Like I said, there has been other issues with the student, with teachers, with other students. And all my child was doing was… and he hasn’t been convicted of any of this. He has not been found guilty. When she was walking by or she was walking by them, I should say, he said, “Did you say terrorist?” He did not call her a terrorist. And this was after already once of being said that he was, that he called her and pointed at her and everything else. So, yeah, I mean it’s… it’s just… it’s ridiculous. I can’t believe that you are putting my son through this. He is a good kid. This is going to impact his future. There is no doubt. And she is not even wearing her hijab nw. And, like I said, this was three days after. This is the mom. This is an excuse to ruin my kid’s life. And I’m going to fight it. And I have nothing else to say. (Getting up) Come on. Let’s go. Come on. (Walking out)
Powell: Wait a minute. I haven’t adjourned.
(J and his mother sit back down)
J’s mother: I guess we will stay a couple more minutes.
J’s aunt: I guess I will be a little late for work.
Powell: There is a set closing I have to give. I will take all the information presented today into consideration and make a decision with the next five working days. I will prepare a written report for the Board of Education. The report shall be sent to the student and the student’s parent or guardian by certificate of mailing. The report shall summarize the evidence, state conclusion of the facts, and make a recommendation to the Board of Education. Are there any further questions or comments? This is your last opportunity, and there will be no opportunity to supplement the record. Any last comments? Okay. Then this hearing is now adjourned at 2:00pm.
And with that, the discipline hearing on September 7th came to an end after two hours and forty-five minutes.
On September 13th, Hearing Officer Robert Powell presented his Finding of Facts to Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams.
Powell agreed with Gott’s recommendation of expulsion of 180 school days for J, along with mandated counseling and for J to attend the Parkway Academy. The next Smyrna Board of Education meeting was September 21st. Williams sent J’s parents a letter.
The Smyrna Board of Education discussed the expulsion during an executive session at their board meeting on September 21st. When they came back into public session, the board voted on the recommendation.
Williams sent a letter to J and his family with the results of the decision.
Yes, the letter was dated August 22nd when it should have been September 22nd. This is coming from the Assistant Superintendent of a School District.
J was expelled from the Smyrna School District for 180 school days.
To be continued in Part 6: J’s mom appeals to the State Board of Education and the change in the two letters shown above play for of a role. Also, some VERY bizarre things start happening…
To read the first four parts in this series, along with some other necessary articles to get some basic backdrop on how Smyrna School District felt they could do this, please go to the below links.