EASTON, Md. (WJZ) — There’s an update in the case that shined a spotlight on zero tolerance policies in Maryland schools. The punishment is reversed for two high school lacrosse players accused of bringing weapons to a game. The Easton High School students were suspended for carrying a penknife and lighter in their bags.
Mike Hellgren has more on the decision to overturn a punishment some considered out of line.
The reversal of these suspensions is a rare move and raises questions about whether zero tolerance policies go too far.
Casey Edsall and Graham Dennis fought and won after school officials in Talbot County suspended the Easton High lacrosse players for having a penknife and lighter, items commonly used to fix their sticks. Dennis was even arrested and handcuffed before a game last year.
Maryland’s state school board reversed the punishment and chastised Talbot administrators, saying, “When a decision of the local school board reflects an abuse of discretion, it will be reversed as illegal. We must do so here.”
“Zero tolerance policy really shouldn’t be in effect when making decisions regarding suspensions. That really comes down to common sense,” Edsall said.
“An apology would be nice, but I don’t see one coming any time soon, to be honest,” Dennis said.
It’s almost unheard of for the state board to take this kind of action. The school board urged local school leaders to take special caution before calling police. Dennis and Edsall had never been in trouble before.
“The state school board really, really struck a blow against Talbot County. If I Google Graham Dennis, the only thing that comes up is arrested with a deadly weapon,” said Laura Dennis, mother. “Our superintendent and our school board has, every step of this, has been ridiculous to anyone with common sense.”
It was traumatic for the students and their family, but they’ve learned from the ordeal.
“I’ll never forget that because it’s an embarrassment and it’s a difficult feeling to overcome being taken in handcuffs to the police station. It’s not something you want to do. It leaves a mark on you,” Graham Dennis said.
The students will head to college in Virginia in the fall. Both will continue to play lacrosse. The boys’ records have been ordered to be wiped clean.
Talbot County Public Schools says it will comply with the state board’s decision and had no further comment. Administrators declined WJZ’s requests for interviews.