Two Escondido, California, high school students—ages 16 and 18—could see their whole lives derailed because they committed the crime of keeping fishing supplies in cars they parked on school property.
The elder teen, Brandon Cappelletti, had three knives in his car: the remnants of a family fishing trip. The knives were used to cut lines and filet fish. The younger teen, Sam Serrato, had a pocketknife in his glove compartment. His father had left it there.
Both teens are facing expulsion. Cappelletti, a legal adult, could serve jail time if convicted of weapons charges, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
You might be wondering how administrators at San Pasqual High School even found out about the innocuous items. You might be wondering why the Escondido police became involved. You might also be wondering if the world has gone mad. I have answers to these questions, but you won't like them.
The high school pays a company to search its campus for contraband using drug-sniffing dogs. On January 27, the dogs indicated Cappelletti's vehicle—not because of the knives, but because he kept Advil in the car. It's not clear how Serrato was caught (one news story claims he also had Advil, but his father disputed this). But the knives were discovered, the police were called, and both boys are in big trouble. According to the police report:
At the conclusion of the investigation, the [school resource officer] determined that both students were in violation of a misdemeanor crime by bringing the knives on school property. The juvenile student's case has been recommended for the Juvenile Diversion program. The Juvenile Diversion program involves a collaborative effort to address various juvenile crimes without the case being heard through the formal juvenile court process. The second student, Brandon Cappelletti is an adult and not eligible for the diversion program. Cappelletti was issued a misdemeanor citation and released at the school to his mother.
At this point, the criminal matter and school matter are two different things. The school district is deciding at a hearing today whether to increase their punishments from suspension—they have already been out of school for weeks—to expulsion. Such a harsh punishment would jeopardize Serrato's future: he's relying on athletic scholarships to attend college.
"If I end up getting expelled, I'd have to go to a community college," he told The Union-Tribune. "It's not what I really want to do. My whole life would change."
Cappelletti has enlisted in the Marine Corp, so he's more worried about the criminal charges, which could completely derail those plans. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cappelletti and Serrato are not the first boys to run afoul of completely ridiculous school zero tolerance policies, which punish students for making innocent mistakes that harmed no one. Nor will they be the last—because the rules governing school safety protocols are insane and utterly disconnected from any real concerns about violence. Students who leave sharp objects in their car are not menaces to society, and irrational fear of knives—which have practical, non-lethal uses (i.e., fishing)—does no one any good.
Knives left in cars are not weapons. Advil is not an illicit substance. Cappelletti and Serrato are not criminals. They shouldn't be expelled. They shouldn't even be in trouble, period.
When it comes to safety, the American public school system—enabled by overzealous law enforcement and clueless state legislators—has completely lost its mind. I hope common sense prevails in this case. Quite often, it does not.