- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

RECTOR, Pa. (AP) - Parents of a 10-year-old violinist are suing to overturn her expulsion for having a knife at an orchestra concert on school property that they contend she merely used to “trim broken hairs” on her violin bow.

Brian and Jennifer Cunkelman want a judge to reverse their daughter’s exclusion from the private Valley School of Ligonier this school year for bringing the Swiss army knife to the concert last school year, when she was a student there, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (http://bit.ly/1NEdgoi) reported.

The couple is trying to enroll Abbigail in the public Blairsville-Saltsburg School District but her admission was questioned Wednesday, the first day of classes, the newspaper reported.

It wasn’t clear Friday if the girl was allowed to attend classes at Blairsville-Saltsburg. The Cunkelmans have declined to comment beyond their lawsuit. School officials Friday referred an Associated Press reporter to a school attorney who did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Cunkelmans contend Abbigail was allowed to finish the academic year at Valley School after the May concert, but the school then sent them a letter in July telling them Abbigail wouldn’t be permitted back this fall. The letter said having the knife at school on school grounds was a violation of the state’s Safe Schools Act, court documents show.

Blairsville-Saltsburg Superintendent Tammy Whitfield told the newspaper she couldn’t comment specifically about Abbigail’s case. She said that in general, the district is “obligated to follow the same expulsion that was carried out by the previous district” though it considers new enrollments on a case-by-case basis.

In court documents, the parents argue that the expulsion carries a “defamatory stigma” and should be removed from the girl’s record.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, who directs the Education Law Center based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, said the Safe Schools Act is vague and problematic.

“We have concerns about the use of zero-tolerance laws because it doesn’t allow for common sense or direction,” she said. The law allows expulsions for up to a year for bringing a weapon onto school property.

Klehr said the law does allow new school districts to accept students expelled by others, but such students can be assigned to alternative programs, including those for disruptive students.

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com

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