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A 37-day suspension of Catskill HS senior raises concerns about student discipline fairness

Dec 26, 2022 1:00 am

Roger Hannigan Gilson is reporting for the Times Union Catskill High School student Owen Valentino, 17, has been suspended for 37 school days after leaving a small pocketknife in his backpack, which he voluntarily surrendered to administrators before he was searched for a vaping device. Valentino said he mistakenly left the knife in his backpack after using it to cut carpet for his part-time job. He was originally suspended for five days beginning October 27, but a 32-day suspension was added after a hearing with administrators. Interim Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi and high school Principal Junait Shah conducted the hearing and asked Valentino to admit that he had brought the knife to school. They reviewed the honors student and Boy Scout's student record and discipline history report, and suspended him for the rest of the semester. His parents unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the school board. Valentino's mother, Colleen Rosenblatt, said the two-month break in her son's education has also taken his focus off of college preparations. Valentino's suspension will end on January 3, when he will then be able to attend class, play sports and attend after-school events. The punishment has prompted an outpouring of support from friends, Scout leaders and educators who believe the penalty is unjust. To help plead his case, Valentino's mother gathered more than 30 letters of support from family members, friends, leaders from his Boy Scout troop, and several school employees. The letters paint the picture of a polite teen who dotes on his younger siblings, helps other high school athletes in the school's fitness center and strives to be an exemplary Boy Scout. In an interview with a reporter, Bongiovi declined to discuss Valentino's case, saying he could not discuss students' disciplinary records. He chose instead to read from a statement he delivered at the December 14 school board meeting. He said, in part, that the discipline imposed was consistent with the school's code of conduct, which was adopted by the board in August 2022, and requires school officials to suspend for at least one year, any student who brings a weapon onto school grounds. "That one-year suspension is mandatory by law. The caveat in the law is a superintendent may modify — meaning, shorten — the mandatory one-year suspension on a case-by-case basis," Bongiovi said. Read more in the Times Union.

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