Detroit Student Suspended for Rest of the Year Over a Pocketknife Found in Her Purse

by Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post

A Detroit-area high school has suspended an honors student for the rest of the school year over a pocketknife the student says she had by accident.

Atiya Haynes, 17, was caught with the pocketknife at a homecoming football game in late September at Annapolis High School in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. School officials were searching the bags of female students exiting the restroom after a security guard claimed to have smelled marijuana nearby, according to local outlet WXYZ-TV. When officials searched Atiya's bag, they found no marijuana, but did find a small knife.

Atiya says she did not realize the knife was in her bag. Her grandfather had given it to her over the summer, urging her to carry it for protection when riding her bike through dangerous neighborhoods to her lifeguarding job, according to MLive.

Atiya, an Advanced Placement student, was originally expelled from Annapolis High following the incident. However, on Monday, the school board rolled back her punishment, albeit slightly. Atiya is now suspended for the rest of the year, but will be allowed to take online classes and graduate with her class in 2015, reports local outlet WJBK-TV.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union came to the teen's defense at a school board meeting last week, asking for an exception to a state zero-tolerance law that imparts harsh penalties on students caught with weapons, says Slate.

In an open letter to the District 7 Board of Education, published Oct. 6, Atiya wrote that the zero-tolerance policy perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

"These policies disproportionately target pupils with impoverished histories of abuse, neglect, or learning disabilities," wrote Atiya. "Due to the No-Tolerance Policies, there have been severe punishments imposed on many students including myself, regardless of circumstances."

School district Superintendent Todd Thieken defended the decision to The Huffington Post. He noted that the district tries to avoid suspending students and has a number of positive intervention programs in place. He added that in this case, officials tried to give Atiya multiple options.

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