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Girl arrested for butter knife in backpack

The sixth-grader was charged with a felony. The Sheriff's Office says it qualifies as a weapon, for which there is a zero-tolerance policy.

Published October 25, 2005

SPRING HILL - An 11-year-old sixth-grade girl was arrested Friday afternoon at Fox Chapel Middle School on a charge of possessing a weapon.

The weapon?

A butter knife.

The girl, who won't turn 12 until March and whose name is being withheld by the Times because she is a minor, was handcuffed, taken to the Hernando County Jail and charged with the possession of a weapon on school property, a third-degree felony.

"I think it's ... ridiculous," her mother said by phone Monday morning. "My God. It's so innocent. It's not like she went to school to try to hurt anybody."

The mother also said the school suspended her daughter for 10 days.

"She's, like, "I don't get it,"' the mother said of her daughter. "Why am I getting in trouble for this?"'

Here's why, said Deputy Donna Black, spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office: "For bringing weapons onto school property, there is zero tolerance. It's been that way for years. And this is not just here. That's nationwide."

The county's schools were closed Monday because of Hurricane Wilma. But when reached at his home Monday morning, Dave Schoelles, the principal at Fox Chapel, said he was out of town last week and didn't know the particulars.

"I'm not going to have any comment on it," he said.

This started not because of the butter knife, according to the arrest report, but because of a small, clear-plastic vial with a purple lid that was in the girl's book bag. The vial contained a white powder. The girl told school administrators that it was "glitter" - her makeup.

She did tell the sheriff's deputy and the administrators that she had shown the vial to a friend and said, "Look at this," but that she was "just kidding."

The substance in the vial, the deputy wrote in the arrest report, tested negative for cocaine, and was sent to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab to "confirm its identity."

When administrators asked the girl to dump out the contents of her bag, though, out came the knife - wrapped, the arrest report says, in a Sonny's Bar-B-Q napkin with tape around it.

The mother, meanwhile, claims the knife came from her house - where, on Friday morning, her daughter was in a rush to get to school and shoved her homework off the table into the bag, she said, and the knife got in there somehow, too.

Florida law says possession of any form of a weapon - "including a razor blade, box cutter or knife" - is illegal on school campuses.

And a butter knife, Black said, according to the criminal definition of a weapon and the wording of the law, " "is a weapon."

Some say that flies in the face of common sense.

The "zero tolerance" debate has surfaced in a number of incidents in the past few years in the state and around the Southeast.

In 2000, a sixth-grader in Georgia was arrested because of the small chain on her Tweety Bird wallet, and in 2003, in Florida, in Melbourne and Brandon, respectively, an 8-year-old was arrested at his elementary school for carrying a pocketknife, and a 13-year-old was suspended from his middle school because his calculator had a gadget-like knife.

This is the second such incident at Fox Chapel this school year.

In August, Patrick Ortiz, 15, was suspended and given three weeks of house arrest after he allegedly threw a pencil that hit a custodian in the shoulder.

Fox Chapel Parent Teacher Student Association president Sheri Noriega did not return a phone message left on Monday afternoon at her home.

Messages also were left for all five members of the School Board.

No response.

The mother of the 11-year-old girl said her daughter had been suspended twice already this fall for fighting - each time for three days - but this time, she said, is "a joke to me."

"This school should be more worried about how to educate these children. I really don't want her going there no more. ... Don't kick 'em out of class or out of school. What's that going to do? She should not be sitting ... here with me."

She said she didn't want her daughter to talk to the Times .

The girl, she said, was watching cartoons on Nickelodeon.

--Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press and Florida Today. Michael Kruse can be reached at or 352 848-1434.

[Last modified October 25, 2005, 03:00:29]

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