Lesson Plan And Syllabus For Second Semester Seniors, Princeton High School

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  1. We actually did discuss "Do the Right Thing" in a college Cinema History course I took. :)

  2. SPQR says:

    Reality is too crazy these days to support parody.

  3. Ken White says:

    Evil. Simple evil.

  4. Mercury says:

    In the 50s my Dad used to bring his gun to his Connecticut high school every day where he practiced with it on the school range with government subsidized ammunition.

    Believe it or not, despite the total backwardness and unenlightened, culturally oppressive horror that was milieu of the Eisenhower era, no one ever took it upon themselves to masacre children.

  5. Jack says:

    I am terrible at math, but there seems to be something wrong with this problem – I seem to remember reading "knowingly to posses" in the text of 14-269.2 in the Class I Felony part… So that doesn't make any sense. Also, I read something in the Class 1 misdemeanor section about what it covers – I seem to remember reading about it applying to weapons not loaded, in a car, and locked up…
    I also read something about being exempt from prosecution if you are carrying the gun because you found it at the bottom – but that might not be part of the law simply because you have to scroll to see it.

    It seems your example problem cannot be solved without a healthy dose of stupid and I was all out of that this morning….

  6. Jack B. says:

    I subscribe to the non-aggression principle, so in no way am I actually advocating violence against another human being, but damn it: these situations are exactly what Riding The Rail is intended for.

    Also, Spike Lee is directing the American remake of Oldboy. This makes me very, very sad.

  7. MEP says:


    16 school shootings during Eisenhower's term. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States#1950s

    Some of them were accidents, some of them were at universities, and none of them had death tools like Columbine, Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook, but this is not really new behavior. It's the hardware that's changed mostly, not the software.

  8. Mercury says:

    Oh and…

    Pro tip: Never call the cops on yourself.

  9. princessartemis says:

    Looks like the other students are learning a lesson in "authority" from this. I hope they do not forget it.

  10. Is this a continuation of the "shut up" advice from Ken, extending it from police and prosecutors to any government authority figure?

  11. MEP says:

    It's this "letter of the law" rather than "spirit of the law" kind of thinking (or lack of thinking) that pisses me off. Dogma is the real enemy. But how do you get that into the heads of the dogmatic?

  12. Jack says:

    @MEP – Hardware hasn't really changed at all… In the 1950s there was the same amount of firepower available to civilians. Just because they didn't paint as many black doesn't mean they were any less deadly. http://www.militaryfactory.com/smallarms/guns-1950-1959.asp

  13. Is this a continuation of the "shut up" advice from Ken, extending it from police and prosecutors to any government authority figure?

    It is not. It is a condemnation, first and foremost, of Kirk Denning, the Principal of the Princeton High School in Johnston County, North Carolina. Principal Denning has taught his students a terrible lesson this week.

    In particular, Principal Denning taught a boy that when he makes a mistake, he should always conceal his wrongdoing. He should lie and prevaricate, rather than manfully confessing and attempting to correct the error.

    Principal Denning has taught his students that lies and hypocrisy are rewarded, while integrity and courage are punished. He has taught his students to fear their government.

    Principal Kirk Denning, of Princeton High School in Johnston County, North Carolina, is the worst educator in the State of North Carolina.

  14. Mike B says:

    I'm not sure what it says about me, other than that I'm a pedant, that I can't get over the inclusion the false cherry-tree story in a fake syllabus to get to the very real point Patrick is making.

  15. Mercury says:

    I don’t know…looks like a lot of accidents, stupid behavior and one-on-one grievances in the 1950s category to me. The hardware is that much more dangerous now but it has been sufficiently dangerous (semi-automatic guns) for a very long time. One the .22s rifles my Dad used in the above account had a 100 round “banana clip” (magazine). Not as much firepower as an AR-15 but you don’t need a chainsaw to cut butter fast.

    The software change is more significant. Less people get institutionalized now for mental problems (for better or worse), more school kids (especially boys) are one psychoactive prescription drugs (usually with the heavy encouragement of their schools) and our national culture (broadly defined) is much more fragmented, less standars-based and less cohesive than it once was. Plus, school personnel, despite their “zero tolerance” policies on just about everything, have very little power these days to actually discipline kids in a classroom setting.

  16. Timothy says:

    School officials and all sorts of other officials everywhere love these kinds of laws. They're get out of jail free cards for them as they don't have to think rationally, they simply have to apply the rule. This is a micro-example of why removing judicial discretion is such a bad thing. One size does not fit all, despite how much tiny minds want to think it does.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I'm guessing – and this is just a guess – that it's the felony because the gun is not locked up at all times, ya? Kid had to get out of the car at some point.

  18. School officials and all sorts of other officials everywhere love these kinds of laws. They're get out of jail free cards for them as they don't have to think rationally, they simply have to apply the rule.

    And yet, if one were to ask Principal Kirk Denning whether one of the missions of Princeton is to educate young citizens of good character, citizens who, when faced with a moral dilemma, will choose to do what is right, he would probably say, "yes."

  19. Jordan says:

    It seems that Ken's warnings about not talking to cops really ought to just be general warnings about not talking to government employees. It seems that rather than being honest about an honest mistake, it would have been better for Cole to just go home and beg forgiveness for leaving during the school day. What a terrible lesson.

    I know that there will be exceptions to the "don't talk to government employees" suggestion, certainly many more than the more simple "don't talk to cops". I know that many situations can introduce ambiguity, but whatever you do remember that it is absolutely never appropriate to talk to a pony. There are no hypothetical situations there, only bad things can come of it.

  20. Eric says:

    This seems very similar to the Kiera Wilmot case to me, where the school district spokesfool tried to claim "actions have consequences." This sheriff acts like his hands are completely tied when we know full well he has discretion. The insistence on felony charges is mind-boggling.

  21. Jordan, I wish I lived in a country where, if I went to a policeman and admitted that I had violated the law through error, with no harm to anyone, the policeman would thank me for my honesty and discuss what we could do, together, to bring me back into compliance with the law.

    I am not such a fool as to believe that I ever did live in such a country, or shall.

  22. @Patrick Non-White – Not to excuse him or to make light of the situation, but is Denning at solely fault? Did he have the authority to do anything else in his situation? Did the constraints of the district's rules and regulations make it a situation where he could help out an honest kid only if he wanted to take on the liability of the situation himself and possibly chuck his career and livelihood in the crapper?

    I ask this from the context of having spent over a decade in a middle management position in a large corporation that had yearly training seminars that made it quite clear that, as a manager, once I was aware of something damaging to the company… fraud, sexual harassment allegations, whatever… the company was, for all intents and purposes aware, and that if I failed to report such things to HR immediately, the company would do all it could to make me the scapegoat and hang me out to dry.

    I used to make sure after such training sessions to remind my team that if they told me something, they were telling the company in general and HR in particular and to bear that in mind.

    I have since moved back to being an individual contributor and am much happier for it.

  23. Clark says:

    > especially after charges weren't filed when a loaded gun was found in an assistant principal's car two years ago.


  24. Deplorable. It's another one of those "yeah, but get it in front of a judge and it'll get cleared" up situations. [1]

    The problem being, of course, that getting it in front of a judge is going to be a long ride of shit. The poor kid's life is seriously messed up now, just for being honest and trying to do the right thing over a "crime" that affected nobody and nothing.

    At least maybe he can turn all that Internet fame to good use, since our tendency to rally around victims of the system is about the only good thing in this mess.

    [1] That used to be a good idea for bullshit claims, but it's getting worse and worse. So consider this the "inb4 op's base claim is meritless". I already know. Just play along.

  25. David but not that David says:

    As to the math part: relying only on symbolic logic, at some point Cole "discovered his mistake." From that point on, he "knowingly possessed" the weapon. Relying on any other form of logic, everyone else reacted stupidly.

  26. Ken in NH says:

    Well if you slack-jawed, hilly-billy tea baggers would let the enlightened (education major) folk teach important things like how the government is your best friend and how even the very shape of a gun is evil (and how to properly pay respect to our dear leader), then they would not have to teach these lessons with extra-curricular means such as suspensions and criminal proceedings.

  27. Wilhelm Arcturus: Human beings are endowed with the gift of free will, if they have the courage to exercise it.

    David Cole Withrow proved this week that he is a human being.

    Principal Kirk Denning proved this week that he is an animal.

  28. David but not that David says:

    As a follow-up, yes, that includes oogey boogey flim flam do wop logic as well.

  29. Ken in NH says:

    In particular, Principal Denning taught a boy that when he makes a mistake, he should always conceal his wrongdoing. He should lie and prevaricate, rather than manfully confessing and attempting to correct the error.

    The other possible lesson to take from this is that some laws are so stupid that violations should never be reported and it might be safer all around to ignore the law itself (like ignoring a 40 mph speed limit on a long stretch of straight highway with hard shoulders and little side traffic).

  30. SJD says:

    I remember reading Hannah Arendt's work in an Intro to Philosophy course at my college. I really enjoyed it because it was fascinating to look at WWII history from a different angle. For those of you who haven't read it, it's about an upper ranked Nazi and how he was basically in it to build a career. You hear stories about people living for work, and this man was basically doing that.

    It's been some time since I've read this, so feel free to prove me wrong, but one under-mentioned event was that he did get in trouble for sending a train – filled with people to be executed – somewhere else, if only because he thought they'd be better as laborers than dead. Ultimately it saved a number of lives while trying to improve the country. This isn't a justification for what he did though.

    It also fascinates me because in the U.S. the Nazis are evil. They have no humanity, and are easily one of our most stereotypical villains. This man may have been a worker drone, and done horrible things, but Arendt's work paints him as just a man. I recommend reading it. It was worth it.

  31. Zac Morris says:

    Was the gun locked?

  32. nlp says:

    It could be that I'm misreading the statute, (actually it's quite possible) but it appears to say that the misdemeanor charge takes effect if the person responsible isn't a student at the school.

    Having said that, this is one of those cases where the school has some sort of Zero Tolerance Policy. Zero Tolerance is put in place by administrators who are reluctant to do any thinking. If student does A, student gets B, whether it makes sense or not. It's this kind of thinking that gets students locked up for writing on a desk. A generation or so ago a student who wrote on a desk would get a lesson in how to clean desks, and ordered to work with maintenance to clean every desk in the room. Today the student is arrested for vandalism.

    I really hate Zero Tolerance policies. And yes, the principal overreacted. He could have come up with some sort of punishment that was logical without bringing the police (and judges, and prosecutors, and defense attorneys etc) into the matter. Maybe a thousand word essay on safe firearm use, or a speech to the student body about why you should always make sure you know where your guns are.

  33. Zac Morris says:

    Not locked in the automobile, I mean did it have the approved locking device blocking the firing mechanism?

  34. Jordan says:

    @Zac Morris – I believe that Cole had loaned the locking device to his principal, who was using it to keep his thought processes from firing accidentially.

  35. John Thacker says:

    (h) would also seem to provide an out, noting that someone is not supposed to be charged at all if "The person delivers the weapon, directly or indirectly, as soon as practical to law enforcement authorities."

  36. Ken L says:

    "However, the charge shall be reduced to a Misdemeanor when the weapon is unloaded, is in a vehicle, and is kept locked. "

    That's not quite right – the charge is reduced to a misdemeanor if the weapon is "not loaded, is in a motor vehicle, and is in a locked container or a locked firearm rack."

    I suppose the argument could be made that the motor vehicle itself should count as a "locked container" but that seems like a bit of a stretch with this wording.

    why it is appropriate to charge Cole with a crime at all, and why it is appropriate to charge Cole with a Class I Felony, rather than a Misdemeanor?

    He shouldn't have been charged with anything at all, in my opinion. The principal should be fired. As for the arresting officer, cops usually have a lot of discretion with respect to arresting someone or not, but I honestly wonder if her maybe had his hands tied in this case.

    But given that he was arrested, the charge fits the facts. If the gun wasn't in a locked case or rack, it's a felony

  37. Jarek says:

    Iron is the sexiest of all metals, go visit an Electric Arc Furnace, or an Integrated Mills, and be blown. away.

    That or google Valemax, sex. on. the. water.

  38. Bruce says:

    Explore in detail why the first phrase of the 2nd Amendment of the United Stats Constitution is meaningless.

  39. Bruce says:

    Please delete the previous. I can't read or spell!

  40. Savrain says:

    Zero-Tolerance, the preferred rule of fascist dictatorships everywhere. Even in the US.

  41. david taylor says:

    Cole shouldn't have been charged at all because he didn't KNOWINGLY posess the weapon….

  42. mcinsand says:


    I think that dictators favoring zero-tolerance policy is merely a derivative of a broader principle: cowardly leaders favor zero-tolerance policies. I do think that we can safely conclud that officials pushing for zero tolerance laws and edicts are fundamentally admitting that they do not have the num-nums to make a reasoned decision on a specific instance that might actually call for some leadership. In a way, it's like a vocalist using autotune, which is like carrying a 'no vocal talent' banner over his/her head.

  43. NI says:

    What needs to happen, and I'm not really sure of the specifics of how to make it happen, is that it has to be more personally costly to an administrator to do something stupid than to not do something stupid. As it now stands, nobody who had anything to do with this student getting expelled will suffer any adverse consequences, so they have no stake in the outcome of whether they make good decisions or bad decisions. Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure that administrators who do stupid things suffer at least as much as do the victims of their stupidity.

  44. NI says:

    By the way, when I was in high school, bringing a gun to school was not an unusual event. My school had a rifle team, and if you were on the rifle team and it was a practice day, you brought your rifle.

  45. NM says:

    I think the principal taught him and the students a great lesson. When it doubt shut the hell up and don't trust whitey the man.

    I'd love to try this case in front of a jury that wasn't absolutely terrified of guns. What an asinine case.

  46. Luke G says:

    Back in my HS days (not all that long ago, post-9/11 even!) we were absolutely forbidden from weapons. On a football Friday (when we had to be present for at least a half-day to play) a guy came in straight from the hunting field, with his dead deer and shotgun in the bed of his truck, having got it at the last minute and not wanting to miss the game. In a shocking act of disobedience to the rules, the admins told him they'd rather just have him take the gun home, and then come back. No punishments other than a stern warning to plan more carefully next time. I'm still surprised such a lapse of discipline didn't lead to mass casualties, dogs sleeping with cats, and total chaos.

  47. RLMullen says:


    More than once you say, "Principal Denning taught his students…" This isn't quite accurate.

    On Monday, Principal Denning taught his students. By the middle of the week Principal Denning's lesson had reached the ears of thousands of students in Johnston County, NC. By now his lesson has spread to tens of thousands of students in central NC. If this story has legs, it is possible that Principal Denning will teach his lesson to millions of students all across the country.

    I wonder what parents who are trying to raise children that display honesty and integrity think about Principal Denning's lesson?

  48. Bob Brown says:

    Get the kid a change of venue to Clayton County, Georgia, where he will come before Judge Steven "zero tolerance is zero intelligence" Teske.

    Better to keep the principal away from Judge Teske's court.

  49. Zac Morris says:

    I agree this should have been handled very differently, but the facts are (as I understand them):

    I believe he blew his "knowingly" defense via: "When Cole discovers his mistake, he confesses and asks for permission to return the shotgun to his home." I agree that it's very frustrating that the letter of the law conflicts with the spirit here.

    The other unanswered question, was he a minor when this happened? If he was 18 (even though still a student), could there have been conflicting policies that would have tied the principles and the officer's hands?

    I live in NC, and I recently purchased a shotgun, and printed on the box, along with every piece of literature that came with it was a prominent notice about the Cablelock [their spelling, not mine]. Unless I'm actually shooting, or have the gun un-assembled that "Cablelock" stays in place. Until I've welded together the steel case where it will be stored in my vehicle, I won't leave it in the vehicle. While some might disagree, I don't think these common sense precautions infringe on my right "to keep and bear arms".

  50. RLMullen says:

    Zac Morris…

    This isn't a story about gun safety, nor is it about the right to keep and bear arms. This story is about the idiocy of zero tolerance "justice". It is also a story about how to teach an honest kid that sometimes being dishonest is in his best interest.

  51. Steven H. says:

    The hardware is rather less dangerous now than in the '50s – an AR15 (.223 semi-auto) may sound scary as all hell, but it's really a black plastic varmint gun.
    Not like, say, the M1 (.30-06 semi-auto), the M14 (.308 semi-auto), the BAR (not the military one, the hunting rifle – various calibres starting in the .22 range on up to well above .30-06), etc.
    And that's not even counting shotguns – we're so damn lucky that lunatics who shoot up schools/theatres are generally too stupid to use a 12 gauge autoloader.

    Note, by the by, that the .22 LR is about the only gun you'll find these days that is weaker than an AR15 (.223).

  52. the other alan says:

    @Zac Morris
    Discovering (or remembering) something after that fact does not retroactively make the action a "knowing" one. As I understand it, "knowingly and willingly" applies to the act of bringing the gun to campus. If he didn't know (or forgot) that he had it at that time, he did not knowingly do it, regardless of what he discovers or remembers later.

  53. James says:

    The principal doesn't have any discretion regarding discipline in a gun possession case. The principal was required to report the violation and to refer the student for a 365-day suspension.

    Federal law requires school districts to expel students for one year if they possess firearms on campus, unless the chief administrator for the school district modifies the punishment, in writing, on a case-by-case basis:

    "Each State receiving Federal funds under any subchapter of this chapter shall have in effect a State law requiring local educational agencies to expel from school for a period of not less than 1 year a student who is determined to have brought a firearm to a school, or to have possessed a firearm at a school, under the jurisdiction of local educational agencies in that State, except that such State law shall allow the chief administering officer of a local educational agency to modify such expulsion requirement for a student on a case-by-case basis if such modification is in writing." 20 U.S.C. § 7151(b)(1)

    North Carolina's law follows the federal requirement:

    "All local boards of education shall develop and implement written policies and procedures, as required by the federal Gun Free Schools Act, 20 U.SC. § 7151, requiring suspension for 365 calendar days of any student who is determined to have brought or been in possession of a firearm or destructive device on educational property, or to a school‑sponsored event off of educational property. A principal shall recommend to the superintendent the 365‑day suspension of any student believed to have violated board policies regarding weapons. The superintendent has the authority to suspend for 365 days a student who has been recommended for such suspension by the principal when such recommendation is consistent with board policies. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the superintendent may modify, in writing, the required 365‑day suspension for an individual student on a case‑by‑case basis. The superintendent shall not impose a 365‑day suspension if the superintendent determines that the student took or received the firearm or destructive device from another person at school or found the firearm or destructive device at school, provided that the student delivered or reported the firearm or destructive device as soon as practicable to a law enforcement officer or a school employee and had no intent to use such firearm or destructive device in a harmful or threatening way.
    (b) The principal must report all incidents of firearms or destructive devices on educational property or at a school‑sponsored event as required by G.S. 115C‑288(g) and State Board of Education policy." § 115C‑390.10.

    Blame the federal government for over-regulation of what should be local issues. Blame the superintendent for not exercising the discretion vested in him or her by the law. But if the principal had acted otherwise, he would have violated the law and jeopardized his employment.

  54. SPQR says:

    Patrick writes: Principal Kirk Denning, of Princeton High School in Johnston County, North Carolina, is the worst educator in the State of North Carolina.

    Tsk tsk, its only May … someone in North Carolina might be up to the challenge you've laid down.

  55. Zac Morris says:

    RLMullen, to be fair this isn't a story about anything specifically.

    Frankly, we're all making the narrative fit our ideals of what's at play.

    We don't have all the facts here. I'm simply posing questions…

    Now regarding the issue of "knowingly", does it possibly depends on the order of events? Did the "crime" occur the moment his vehicle entered the school grounds, or did it occur the moment he confessed to doing so? I would imagine the first, but [IAMAL] is that a given?

    Had he left school grounds without admitting to the "crime" and seeking permission to leave, could he still be charged with this crime? (That's a real question not a leading one)

    It sounds like lots of "mistakes" were made here. Nobody is without mistake in this situation.

    I agree with the prevailing sentiment, that had the administrator been brave enough to stop this before it got out of hand; this would be a non-issue.

    I also feel that zero-tolerance "Justice" has some very unfortunate outcomes, but likewise their goal is to reduce the far more common outcomes where one group of people is held to a different standard of Justice than others. So what is the pragmatic approach?

    From what I've read above, the boy has been arrested, not yet convicted. So he will have his day in court correct? Do we know if "mandatory sentencing" guidelines apply to this as well? If not (and depending on his age status) the outcome is not yet certain.

  56. Waldo says:

    Principal Denning is a bad person, but there's others who also deserve to be castigated for their stupidity, including the superintendent of schools and the district attorney. I'm not sure about the cops.

  57. ZarroTsu says:

    Children will be invited to a game of "Red-Light/Green-Light", wherein all participants must remain blindfolded.

  58. Dan Weber says:

    In this post-Enron world, it's important that we teach our children values, including the most important value of all: Do not embarrass those who are in charge.

  59. Ken White says:

    If knowledge is an element, it's very defensible.

    One of my partners recently got a client acquitted who showed up at the airport with a gun in his bag, having forgotten it was there.

    Still, on these facts, it shouldn't have been charged in the first place — at least not without investigation showing a basis for thinking the kid had knowledge.

  60. Zac Morris says:

    Ken, "If knowledge is an element, it's very defensible."

    That's the part I'm not understanding. Had someone walking through the parking lot noticed the gun, and then the owner was confronted by the administrator, prior knowledge could be reasonably argued.

    But with the student essentially confessing the "crime" prior to discovery, is prior knowledge (or lack there of) as reasonably argued?

    Still no info I can find on the student's age, but there is some good news.

    There is a silver lining in the story of the North Carolina high school student arrested Monday for accidentally leaving his shotgun in his locked car – he’s just earned himself a scholarship to his dream school, Liberty University.

  61. Ken White says:

    At the risk of Clark writing another post about me, I would not view a scholarship to Liberty University as good news. But tastes differ.

  62. Zac Morris says:

    He was 18 at the time of the incident. here

    Does that change anyone's perspective? [Serious question]

    That does pose the question of if things would have been handled differently had he been 17?

  63. Zac Morris says:

    "scholarship to Liberty University as good news". My intention was to imply, from his perspective, withholding my own judgement. ;-)

  64. Zac Morris says:

    But speaking of Liberty, I will be attending a graduation at Liberty on the 11th, for the son of one of my friends. My friend, who like me, is Gay and partnered, yet unlike me, is Christian; the son is graduating with a BS in Justice Studies. The world changes in tiny steps!

  65. It changes nothing. 17 year olds charged with felonies in North Carolina are automatically tried as adults.

    In North Carolina, children below the age of seven are irrebuttably presumed incapable of forming criminal intent. Children between the ages of seven and fourteen are rebuttably presumed incapable of forming criminal intent. Children above the age of fourteen are rebuttably presumed capable of forming criminal intent.

    But there is no question Cole Withrow knew he'd done something wrong. He confessed to it, boldly and like a man.

    The issue is that the authorities in Johnston County, and Princeton High School, lack Cole Withrow's boldness. They refuse to exercise their discretion to dismiss the charges and absolve Withrow of wrongdoing.

    The child behaved like an adult. The adults are behaving like cowards and children.

  66. Merl says:

    "Because someone paid me to", is not an excuse. YOU are responsible for YOUR actions and claiming "the man made me do it" doesn't make it right. Denning is responsible for his school. 99.9% of the time "I'm just trying to do my job" is not an excuse it's an accurate description of the problem.

  67. Grandy says:


  68. Zac Morris says:

    I agree Patrick. But like someone else stated, this way the administrator doesn't lose his job. If someone had raised an issue with his handling the situation himself, he could very likely have lost his job.

    I just don't think it's quite fair to put the whole burden of wrong-doing on the administrator.

    One more question, if he was 17, and the tried as an adult, but the judge found only enough evidence to reduce the charges back to a misdemeanor would the judge be able to seal the record of a minor, or would it automatically be handed off to a Juvenal court?

  69. if he was 17, and the tried as an adult, but the judge found only enough evidence to reduce the charges back to a misdemeanor would the judge be able to seal the record of a minor, or would it automatically be handed off to a Juvenal court?

    No. See North Carolina's Parody In Sentencing Act, in Chapter 14 of the General Statutes.

  70. Zac Morris says:


    …there was another incident involving someone unintentionally bringing a weapon onto the same school's property. Catherine Bennett, an assistant principal at Princeton High School, "mistakenly" brought a weapon to school. In her case, instead of an unloaded weapon locked in a vehicle, it was was a loaded handgun in the glove box of her car. Bennett's car wasn't parked in the parking lot. It was in an instructional area, because she brought it to school for repairs. The handgun ended up in the hands of students, at least temporarily. One would think that leaving a loaded weapon in an area accessible to students – intentionally or not – would merit criminal charges, or immediate dismissal from work. After all, Withrow's been expelled for his unloaded, and secured weapon that he attempted to get safely removed from campus, right? Wrong. Bennett was given a three day suspension, and remains an employee on that campus.

  71. Clark referenced that above.

    Let's not repeat ourselves please.

  72. L Nettles says:

    And the furnaces of Moloch remain regularly stoked

  73. Zac Morris says:

    I've lived in NC for 12 years, and I find its laws more and more ridiculous every year…

    Two years ago, I received a speeding ticket in Virginia. The appearance date was the following week and I was still on vacation, so I just paid the fine when I got home. Then last Spring (about 10 months later), I received a letter from NC informing me that my license would be suspended for 30 days, because apparently there is a law on the books that if a NC resident is guilty of a speeding violation over 65mph [I was ticketed at 68] in another state, then the license will be suspended for 30 days [of course with all the resulting fees associated with have the license re-instated].

    I appealed, and was then informed [by certified letter] that as part of my appeal I had to "write an essay on how [my] driving habits had improved".

    I completed my essay that I entitled, "What I did last summer", submitted it, and was informed that the state would not seek further action at this time. I'm assuming that means that it's equivalent to "without prejudice", meaning they can probably do so later if they so choose? [say for example for pointing out how silly the process of law is in NC is, on a legal blog?]

  74. Matt says:

    See North Carolina's Parody In Sentencing Act

    Patrick, intentional, or slip? (Or, worst of all, should have a (sic) for a mistake in the original?)

  75. princessartemis says:

    @Zac, at least they didn't make you write sentences on the chalkboard after school.

  76. James says:

    The criticisms of the school principal in this thread have been rather harsh. Consider the principal's actions in light of the organizational structure of the school district:

    The school district is governed by a Board of Education, a democratically elected body that determines the general policies for the school district and exercises general supervision over the schools. The Johnson County Schools Board of Education has enacted a firearms policy that is consistent with the federal Gun Free Schools Act, presumably because (like many school districts) the Johnson County Schools would not be able to operate without federal funding. The Board policy regarding firearms is that "A student who brings a firearm onto school property shall be suspended for 365 calendar days unless the superintendent recommends placement in an alternative program approved by the Board of Education. Expulsion may be recommended if the student is fourteen years of age or older." PC 4200.

    Below the Board of Education is the Superintendent. The Superintendent is the chief administrator for the school district, and is authorized "to manage the schools within the framework of the board's policies." PC 1400. If the Board of Education "has provided no policy or guide for administrative action, the superintendent shall have the power to act," subject to subsequent review by the Board. PC 1520.

    School principals manage their individual school sites in accordance with Board policies and direction from the Superintendent. During the school year, principals may be dismissed for (1) inadequate performance; (2) insubordination; (3) neglect of duty; (4) failure to fulfill the duties and responsibilities imposed upon teachers or school administrators by the General Statutes of North Carolina; and (5) failure to comply with such reasonable requirements as the board may prescribe. § 115C‑325(e)(1).

    So for those that would blame the principal, please understand what that entails. If the principal did not recommend the student for expulsion, he would have violated federal and state law. He would have violated his employer's written policies (which were enacted by a democratically elected body). Depending on what instructions the Superintendent has given the principals regarding expulsions, his refusal to recommend expulsion could have violated his supervisor's directions.

    Ultimately, the principal's failure to recommend the student for expulsion could have subjected him to discipline, up to and including dismissal. If his employment were terminated for cause, he may well have been disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

    Knowing all that, one could certainly still take the position that what happened to the student was such a manifest injustice that no good man could stand for it, and the principal should have been willing to risk his career for his principles. But that seems to me a very high standard to impose. Better, I think, to lay the blame on the Superintendent, who is explicitly given discretionary authority by the law and the Board's policies.

  77. Juvenal says:

    Matt, go back and read Patrick's comment. Carefully.

  78. perlhaqr says:

    Patrick: He has taught his students to fear their government.

    I think that makes him the best educator in the State of North Carolina.

  79. Josh M. says:

    @Zac Morris: I highly doubt anyone in the motor vehicle department of NC would be dumb enough to do that. That's like giving you a piece of paper saying, "Here, have several thousand dollars from the government for damages in your forthcoming malicious prosecution/SLAPP suit." And yes, I know NC doesn't have an anti-SLAPP law, but since you'd be going against the state itself, I imagine federal law could be applied (though IANAL, so I could well be wrong about that).

  80. mcinsand says:


    You may well have solved a mystery for me. I have lived in NC all of my life, although I have visited most other states. A frustrating embarrassment has been the way our DMV hands out licenses like Halloween candy. I even refer to many of our drivers, such as those that go slow in the lefthand lane, trick-or-treaters. Maybe this all makes sense, though, especially in the way our state shafted you. Maybe the point is to ensure a constant stream of crappy drivers.

    No, I'm not referring to you, but this asinine law would make sense if coupled with the fact that we will hand out licenses to anyone. The law may have been less nonsensical in the days of 55 MPH speed limits, but, when many interstate stretches have speed limits over 70, it is even more embarrassing.

    Our commercial license manual actually used to instruct drivers to stay with the pack on the road, in the interest of safety, even if the average speed was 10-15 MPH over the speed limit. I had a copy when our taxes paid for me to get a class B license in school, but the last I saw of the book was years ago.


  81. Rob says:

    Note, by the by, that the .22 LR is about the only gun you'll find these days that is weaker than an AR15 (.223).

    Not actually accurate. As far as rifle rounds go, .223 Remington/5.56 NATO are considered "intermediate" rounds. This means that they are more powerful than pistols and pistol-caliber carbines/submachine guns, but less powerful than traditional military rifle rounds such as the .30-06 Springfield or 7.62x51mm NATO/.308 Winchester.

    A standard .223 Rem round will produce around 1300 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle. This is a bit more than twice more than a standard .45 ACP round will produce (around 600 ft/lbs), but half what a standard .308 Winchester round will produce (around 2600ft/lbs of force).

    The round was designed as a compromise. It allowed soldiers to carry more ammunition than they would be able to if they were using one of the much larger traditional cartridges and kept recoil lower, which made it easier to train new recruits, while still having a somewhat acceptable amount of power.

    That all being said, this:

    Not like, say, the M1 (.30-06 semi-auto), the M14 (.308 semi-auto), the BAR (not the military one, the hunting rifle – various calibres starting in the .22 range on up to well above .30-06), etc.
    And that's not even counting shotguns – we're so damn lucky that lunatics who shoot up schools/theatres are generally too stupid to use a 12 gauge autoloader.

    is the truth. There is absolutely nothing special about standard military firearms in terms of power. In fact, they have been trending towards less and less powerful, where as hunting rifles have been becoming more and more powerful. The reason is simple: in hunting, you both have to make a quick, humane kill, while often having to deal with game that can be much larger than a human being, where as in the military it doesn't matter so much if you injure or kill your opponent, just so long as he is out action.

    In hunting, an AR-15 chambered in .223/5.56 NATO is considered barely capable of taking deer humanely. It is more useful for coyotes, hogs and other smaller game. It generally isn't considered acceptable for larger game such as elk, bear or moose, or even larger deer species like mule deer.

  82. z! says:

    Coming in late to the party-
    The problem isn't "zero tolerance" of something, it's "mandated inflexible response" to an infraction. I think most people can accept that we should not tolerate (verb, definition 1) firearms or other deadly weapons at schools; however there is reasonable disagreement about what should be done if one of them appears.

    In a rural district, it would be perfectly rational for the authority to confiscate the weapon and return it at the end of the day, maybe only to the parents. OTOH, in an urban school that's known for violence, maybe just calling the cops is more rational. The same goes for harassment- there are times to educate the perpetrator and times to punish them, and it can be a fine line between the two.

    Why is this? Partly because by allowing any discretion we've opened up those authorities to actions from someone that thinks they got the rough end of the punishment or from a victim that thinks the punishment wasn't sufficient. Both persons and organizations want to stay out of court, so it's easy to hide behind "Got to do what the rules say" instead of actually thinking about why there was a problem and how to best solve it. The courts often stoke the fires by following a bad policy instead of asking why the policy exists and what it's trying to accomplish. (Case in point is the (IIRC) 7 yr old kid who was expelled from school for the knife that his mother put in the lunchbox so he could peel some fruit. Yes, it should have been there. No, it didn't cause any harm, except to the child's education.)

  83. DP says:

    Isn't the real lesson here that the teacher and teacher's aide can get away with it, while the student cannot? The Sheriff states the teacher "didn't know" implying (correctly, I believe) a mens rea. The kid simply says "I forgot it was there." No mens rea. The fact that he told someone when he remembered goes a long way to showing no criminal intent here. How, exactly, super duper intelligent sheriff, is this any different? Sickening.

  84. david taylor says:

    Dear lord; If his dream school is Liberty University, he's better off pleading guilty to a felony.

  85. Nate says:

    @mcinsand: My Arizona license is good until I am 65. I am currently quite a bit younger than 65. I keep waiting for the day people stop believing the license is mine. :)

    I took my driver's test in North Dakota. I had to wait until I was 16, but most of my friends obtained their licenses at 14.5. When I took my test I got dinged because I didn't turn on my turn signal far enough in advance of the stop sign. I didn't turn on my signal because I didn't see the stop sign early enough because I took my test in a blizzard. :)

  86. a.s. says:

    You write

    With respect, that's not a high standard, it's the bare minimum. Not to injure an individual for an error which harmed nobody and which the individual brought to light himself is not some sort of heroic action, it is the obvious and necessary action. If the principal's career is, in fact, harmed by the action, then he is obviously working with the wrong school district, and he is benefitted by losing his job since the legislation and policy he is working under is evil and influenced by evil people. If he attains a criminal record for it, he is obviously living in the wrong state for similar reasons.

  87. a.s. says:

    Sorry, I can't seem to edit the above. My answer, in case it isn't obvious, starts with "with respect" and goes on. I need a better handle on tags.

  88. Rich Rostrom says:

    Savrain • May 3, 2013 @9:33 am:Zero-Tolerance, the preferred rule of fascist dictatorships everywhere.

    Oh, no. Dictatorships of all kinds prefer completely discretionary tolerance, which gives them power to imprison anybody at any time for de jure cause.

    When one's freedom is dependent on authority's whim, one has no freedom. But… if there is "Zero Tolerance" and no discretion, then they can't touch you at will. They can't hold anything over you as a threat.

  89. Steven H. says:

    Rob: "Not actually accurate. As far as rifle rounds go, .223 Remington/5.56 NATO are considered "intermediate" rounds. This means that they are more powerful than pistols and pistol-caliber carbines/submachine guns, but less powerful than traditional military rifle rounds such as the .30-06 Springfield or 7.62x51mm NATO/.308 Winchester. "

    I concede the point.
    My choice of words was incorrect (I should have used "rifle" instead of "gun") – I was thinking in terms of rifle rounds, not pistol rounds. And as a rifle round, the .223 is still one of the weakest out there – stronger than a .22LR, butt considerably weaker than anything I'd take hunting for anything bigger than a small coyote (and, frankly, I'd prefer a 7.62×39 even for a coyote – there are some damn big "coyotes" wandering around my mom's house these days).

  90. John Kindley says:

    Ken wrote: "At the risk of Clark writing another post about me …"

    Commenting on your post instead would have been more normal, it seems. I always imagined there being some kind of Popehat Handbook of Do's and Don'ts for new contributors. Or that you guys email each other and are never surprised by what each other does.

  91. Joe R says:

    I think most people can accept that we should not tolerate (verb, definition 1) firearms or other deadly weapons at schools; however there is reasonable disagreement about what should be done if one of them appears.
    I'm not sold on the idea of gun-free zones simply because people who want to break the law aren't going to care about such laws being in place. But in respect to that, I haven't made up my mind about what the best approach to gun control (or a lack thereof) is, so I'm certainly open to more ideas about what would have the "best" overall impact.

  92. jim says:

    I think fault lies more or less with the student: he should have known better than to consult the authorities. This lessen has been presented many times in many forms with officials lying about and misrepresenting drugs, biology, music and whatever else they might take an interest in. They will only rarely take action in the interest of a common citizen. This particular lesson bears repeating. If the student was taught to expect otherwise: shame on his teachers. At least the other students who may have been listening to those teachers can take note before it's too late for them.

  93. Jack says:

    @Mike B

    I'm not sure what it says about me, other than that I'm a pedant, that I can't get over the inclusion the false cherry-tree story in a fake syllabus to get to the very real point Patrick is making.

    I had a hard time getting past that, myself. The amount of indefensible disinformation inculcated to public-school students in this country is enraging.

    Albeit not as enraging as what befell this poor kid for behaving well.

  94. James says:


    It's not really an issue of the principal working for the wrong school district. Pretty much every school district in the country has a similar policy with regard to firearms (there may be a state or school district that has opted out of federal education funding, but I am not aware of any).

    When I read a story like this, it's not the decision of the principal that bothers me – the principal is middle management, not a real decision-maker. The bigger problem is systemic – that the federal government has implemented uniform educational policies that take discretionary power away from local school boards, and that do not take into account the different needs of different school districts.

    If you must assign blame within the school district, I think blame initially should go to the local Board of Education, for enacting a policy that constrains the Superintendent's discretionary authority beyond what federal and state law require. That's an issue that can be fixed by the residents of the school districts in their next election, if the issue is important to the community.

    Secondly, blame should go to the Superintendent, for not using reasonably the discretionary authority that he or she had.

    As for the principal, I do think it goes beyond the bare minimum to expect that he risk his livelihood due to disagreement with policies and decisions that are beyond his control.

    The school administrators that I have known, by and large, aren't evil. They are for the most part well-meaning. They went into the education business because they care about children. When they take actions that seem unreasonable or harmful to children, it's not always the individual administrators that deserve our rebuke, but the systems in which they act.

    And as a citizen, I don't want the good and moral people in government to resign or be driven from their positions because they disagree with the policies they are charged with implementing. All that does is lead to an absence of good and moral people in government.

  95. a.s. says:

    First, thank you for taking what I said seriously and responding to it. I must disagree with what you said, but it is a pleasure to see that, apparently throughout the blog, and with obvious exceptions, everyone seems to be perfectly civil. Sorry to go on about this, but I generally avoid comment threads just because the level tends to drop so fast. You write

    it's not the decision of the principal that bothers me – the principal is middle management, not a real decision-maker. The bigger problem is systemic…

    It is a necessary condition for the systemic problem to exist that middle management act in certain ways. Therefore, yes, it's a systemic problem, but that does not absolve middle management. The only control this principal needs to have for blame to be assigned to him is over his own actions. He has that control. His actions, as I understand them from the above, are necessary for the systemic problem to exist. If he did not act in an evil way, either the evil result would not happen or someone else would be responsible for it. In neither case would he be blameworthy. You mention others who deserve blame. There's more than enough to go around, to claim that the principal should be blamed for what he did isn't some sort of pass for everyone else. I absolutely agree that everyone else you mention is to blame as well. You write:

    As for the principal, I do think it goes beyond the bare minimum to expect that he risk his livelihood due to disagreement with policies and decisions that are beyond his control.

    With respect, I don't see where you're coming from when you say that he doesn't have control. he does have control over the policy as applied. He could refuse to report the infraction, he could tell the student "go home, get the gun out of here, come back, and I appreciate your honesty in telling us". If you're saying that he is a coward, isn't that a moral problem? If you're saying that he's risking his livelihood so that he doesn't have to perform an injustice, isn't that what people are supposed to do so as not to be evil people? After all, I know of no moral system, whether religious or secular, which says that the first and most important rule of life is to keep your job. The fact that you want to keep your job is not justification for letting fear run your life. You write:

    And as a citizen, I don't want the good and moral people in government to resign or be driven from their positions because they disagree with the policies they are charged with implementing. All that does is lead to an absence of good and moral people in government.

    I used to agree with you on this last statement, but history has hammered it out of me. What happens, all the time, is not that good people stay in government, but that good people are twisted, by their experience, into managers who just do their jobs or into lower levels of evil. There are two tragedies here, I think. The first is this student's charge and possible criminal record, sentence, etc. The second, and this may well be worse, is that the principal was once probably one of the well-meaning school administrators. He isn't anymore. I wish there was a real option of people staying in government, remaining good people, and changing policies slowly. History tells me this is too far from human nature. If people are not willing to hold to their principles to start with, even in the face of being driven from their jobs, then it is far more likely that their jobs will change them and that, whatever they were when work started, they won't be much when they're done. If they are not willing to violate unjust policies, they ought not to have gotten into government to start with, the backbone was lacking.

  96. Allen says:

    Then again it's Johnston County. Is it still Klucker County these days?

    They used to have some mighty fine road signage years ago.

    Stay out! Burma Klan Shave.

  97. efemmeral says:

    "Parental consent is required to view the assignment."

    Painfully funny, as always.

  98. James, what do you make of the News & Observer's report (first link) that Principal Denning recommended a one year suspension, effectively an expulsion for a high school senior?

    Do you believe that that N&O got it wrong? Assuming that's not the case, how do you reconcile it with your apparent stance that the Principal is merely a functionary, without discretion in such matters?

    If the Principal is in a position to recommend a full year, is he not also in a position to recommend waiver of punishment, or perhaps a one day, or three day suspension, as a means of telling the student, "We appreciate your honesty in coming forward about this, but we'd like you to take a day or two off to consider the mistake you made. Come back to school in three days, and we'll forget this ever happened."

  99. brad says:

    One version in the local news was the student called his mom directly to come get the car/gun and someone in the office overheard the conversation. Said office person then decided to save the day "for the children" and called the police.

  100. barry says:

    If the 'student overheard calling his mom' story that @brad wrote about is true, it changes much. If someone saw Washington chop down the cherry tree and told his father it would be a whole different story.

    We can be a lot less indignant about the discretion of the principal if the cops had already been called. I don't know which version is true.

  101. princessartemis says:

    @barry, it would be more equivalent to someone overhearing Washington making plans to try to fix the cherry tree's wound and then yelling, "I'M TELLING!!!"

  102. barry says:

    @princessartemis Neither the story at newsobserver or
    wral is clear about if the principal heard about the gun before the police or not.
    Both stories use the vague 'administrators' or 'officials', so it is possible the police knew about the gun before the principal. I think it makes a difference to how much the principal can be vilified.

    I somehow first got the impression that the kid told the principal, but I can't find that anywhere now. But there's enough dumbness in this story to go around a number of people.

  103. princessartemis says:

    Yeah, I think you may be right on that front; if the cops are already involved, the principle's hands will be tied a bit more. I was refering to the status of what the kid did and what the administrator (whomever they may be) did in response. If the kid told the administrator, the administrator acted unethically and the kid acted like an adult; if the kid was just overheard trying to correct the issue, he was *still* acting more responsibly than the person who overheard and decided to run to the cops over it.

  104. RED-404 says:

    I find this gun thing a little strange. I drove to school with 2 rifles and a shotgun in the back window of my truck every day, this was post Columbine/9.11. No one ever thought twice about it. Granted I live in the middle of nowhere KS.

  105. James says:

    @ Patrick Non-White

    The N&O got it right, but the recommendation was mandated by state law, which provides that in cases of firearm possession, "[a] principal shall recommend to the superintendent the 365‑day suspension of any student believed to have violated board policies regarding weapons." The laws and policies governing student discipline for firearm possession do not have an intent requirement (which differs from the criminal law), so simply possessing a firearm at school leads to an automatic expulsion recommendation.

    At that point, the superintendent has the discretion to impose a different disciplinary action (although under the Board's policies, the superintendent would still be required to impose an "alternative program" and get Board approval for the placement – it doesn't look like the Board's policies allow the superintendent to leave the student in his current placement).

    With the caveat that I am not licensed to practice law in North Carolina, and that my understanding of North Carolina's educational law is limited to the recreational research I've done based on the article you posted, it looks like there is a two-tiered system of disciplinary offenses. For most offenses, the principal has the discretion whether to recommend expulsion or impose a different punishment. For more serious offenses, the principal is required to recommend expulsion, and the Superintendent and Board then have discretion to reject the recommendation based on the specific circumstances of the case. The principal's recommendation is not the final word, it's the formality that initiates the expulsion proceedings. In some cases, like for firearms possession, the expulsion recommendation is ministerial rather than discretionary.

    The law would be better written if it said the principal was required to refer the student for expulsion, rather than recommend the student for expulsion, but I have given up on expecting state legislatures to produce well-crafted legislation, particularly with regard to educational law.

  106. James says:

    By the way, I don't disagree at all with your position that what is happening to the student is unconscionable. I just think the naming and shaming should go higher up the food chain.

  107. Bob says:

    You realize that the teen admitted he was lying about not knowing the guns were in the truck, and the school proved that he lied about only remembering when he went out to get something from his truck through the use of surveillance footage? So, I can see why they prosecuted – they probably knew he was lying the whole time.


    Cue ranting about surveillance cameras.