COVER- Toy story: How a high school superstar almost lost his future

"I tried to stay positive," says Justin Sexton, a Fluvanna County High School senior who was suspended for a year when school administrators searched his pick-up truck and discovered a friend's airsoft rifle in the toolbox that Sexton didn't know was there.

Ordinary day

The 18-year-old senior wheeled his father's pick-up truck into the student parking lot at Fluvanna County High School. It was just before 8am on the morning of Friday, January 29, when the event occurred that turned him from a normal student to the latest casualty in the war on school violence.

"I was just thinking about getting to class," recalls Justin Sexton.

A member of Fluvanna High's football team, he'd been voted Homecoming King in the fall, and despite working three part-time jobs, Sexton somehow maintained a 3.2 GPA. His hard work had paid off as he was accepted early admission to his first choice school, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and the Officer Candidate Program of the U.S. Coast Guard.

But as he prepared to park his father's white 1999 Ford F-250 he sometimes drove to school, Sexton was flagged down by an administrator who noticed the absence of a necessary permit required for on-site parking. Sexton promised he'd stop by the school office to purchase the $20 sticker, and he started to pull out of the lot.

"I wasn't worried," he says with a shrug. He should have been.

He would soon find himself facing what amounted to expulsion in a case that would throw Fluvanna County into uproar and reignite a debate on common sense amid the post-Columbine culture of fear that permeates schools to this day.

Search and destroy

"Stop!" yelled Jeff Scales, an assistant principal.

Confused, Sexton says, he did as Scales requested, climbed out of the truck and looked where Scales was pointing. Something was wedged between the truck's rear cab window and the silver toolbox bolted to the pick-up bed: a capless Aquafina water bottle with brown residue at the bottom.

"He said, 'What's in that bottle?'" Sexton recalls. The administrator told Sexton he believed the container held tobacco spit, something Sexton didn't doubt, but for which he says he didn't feel responsible.

"I said, 'I don't know– it's not mine'," he recalls. Sexton says he pointed out that anyone could have put it there and that he didn't even "dip" tobacco, but that didn't satisfy Scales.

"He wanted to search my truck," says Sexton.

Columbine's fall-out

April 20, 1999 was the day that changed the way educators, parents and students think about school safety. Until that time, the stereotypical misfit seemed ripped from the screen of The Breakfast Club or Revenge of the Nerds– brooding rebels or hopeless dorks, as harmless as they were friendless. If given the chance, they might even "get the girl" or grow up to be the next Bill Gates. Hurt someone? It seemed laughable.

But in a pair of dark trenchcoats, beneath which were hidden arsenals they would use to slaughter their classmates and teachers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold turned that stereotype inside out. The misfit was now a ticking time bomb, or perhaps even the devil himself, bent on ending innocent lives in a spray of bullets and blood.

The two students, long known by authorities to have antisocial tendencies, arrived at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado where they set bombs and, using shotguns, a rifle, and a semi-automatic pistol, proceeded to mow down fellow students and teachers, killing 13 and injuring 24, before shooting themselves in the school library as authorities closed in.

Since that time, there have been dozens of copycat crimes, including the deadliest school shooting in modern history, less than three hours from Charlottesville where Seung Hui Cho killed 32 of his Virginia Tech classmates and professors on April 16, 2007– almost exactly eight years after Columbine. 

Closer to home, Albemarle County school administrators thought they'd stumbled upon such a plot in 2006 when they were tipped off to online communications and other behavior among four teens at different county schools they contended suggested a plan to blow up two Albemarle high schools. An aggressive prosecution put the teens behind bars for months, although no bomb materials, plot evidence, or– in the case of some of the students– even a personal connection were ever found.

While "school shooter" is a term that had no meaning 11 years ago, today it conjures images of terror and death– and it is directly responsible for the "zero tolerance" trend that swept the nation's schools beginning with Columbine and which has resulted in expulsions and even arrests of students, many of whom harbored no malice toward classmates or teachers and who have nothing in common with the angry, anti-social misfits who would carry out such horrific crimes.

"Our society has moved toward an 'order society' where kids have to be controlled," says John Whitehead, founder of the Charlottesville-based civil liberties organization the Rutherford Institute. "Kids are seen as targets or the enemy."

Whitehead has fought on behalf of many of these kids.

They include the Louisa County seventh grader who was suspended from school because of a song she wrote for a creative expression class project, the New York third-grader suspended and arrested for using an L-shaped piece of paper as a gun in a pretend game of "cops and robbers," and the South Carolina tenth-grader who lost his chance to attend the Air Force Academy due to the semester-long expulsion he received for accidentally carrying a Swiss Army knife to school.

Justin Sexton never thought he'd become one of those students.

Back in Fluvanna

As assistant principal Scales conducted his inquiry that day in late January, Sexton quickly owned up to a pack of cigarettes in the cab, offering to hand them over even with the knowledge that their existence on school grounds would bring a one-day suspension. But that admission and offer didn't deter Scales, who suggested a search– and informed Sexton that refusing a search constitutes a separate offense– carrying an automatic 10-day suspension.

"I said, I'm 18, I admit that I smoke, and I told him I know that I don't have to let him search my truck– I told him it's not right to search it for something that wasn't even in my truck."

Sexton says Scales reiterated the 10-day threat. Uneasy, Sexton called his father, Col. Tim Sexton, to ask advice.

"He asked me if I had anything in there," Sexton recalls of the conversation with his father, which included the admission about the cigarettes, something of which his father disapproved.

After considering the likely outcomes, Col. Sexton advised his son to allow the search to avoid the lengthier suspension. Both father and son assumed that once Sexton handed over the contraband cigarettes, the episode would end. They were wrong.

"They kept searching it, to see if there was anything else they could get me in trouble for," says Sexton.

By this point, associate principal Patty Mason had joined the mission. Scales was rummaging through the vehicle's cab, Sexton says, while Mason had clambered onto the bed of the truck. There, in the built-in toolbox, she hit paydirt.

"They told me they found a gun," Sexton says. "I was like, 'Are you serious right now?'"

The mysterious discovery made more sense to Sexton once he got a look at the weapon: it was an airsoft rifle.

Packing less power than a B.B. gun, airsofts are popular with teens and pre-teens who enjoy shooting each other with spring or gas propelled plastic pellets. During play, airsoft users require only eye protection to prevent injury, and Sexton says he and his friends have played with airsofts in the woods and fields behind his Palmyra home near Lake Monticello.

But while many families consider them simple toys– a step up from a Nerf gun– airsofts are among the clearly listed "weapons" forbidden by Fluvanna and other local school districts' code of conduct. Justin admits he knew the rule– but doesn't know how he could have avoided breaking it since, he says, he didn't know the airsoft was there. 

Stunned by the discovery of the airsoft, an increasingly anxious Sexton told administrators he didn't know why the broken and pellet-less airsoft was in the toolbox, which was otherwise filled only with his father's tools. 

"The only thing I've ever had is an airsoft pistol," he says he explained to the administrators, adding that his airsoft was home in his garage. Despite Sexton's explanation, he was sent home, and the airsoft– a replica of a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle– was turned over to the school's Resource Officer, who, Sexton says, informed him that the Fluvanna Commonwealth Attorney would be notified and that he could soon be facing criminal charges for weapon possession on school property.

"I was really scared," admits Sexton.

Constitution stops at the door

The U.S. Constitution protects every citizen against unreasonable search and seizure. State and federal laws require proof of intent when considering an accused's innocence or guilt. These laws are a bedrock of American democracy and a cornerstone of our legal system. These are rights enjoyed by all of us on public streets, in homes, and certainly in our courts– even by those accused of dreadful crimes.

But these rights don't apply if you're a student in an American public school, where Constitutional rights stop at the door– and zero tolerance policies, whose popularity soared after Columbine, exacerbate the issue.

At home that January afternoon, Justin, his father, and friends figured out the mystery of the airsoft. A month earlier, during Christmas break, Justin says, he and his friends had planned a weekend airsoft game that was cut short when the boys were called in to work a shift at Topeka steakhouse on Pantops. None of the teens remembers placing the airsoft in the toolbox, and none had looked for it since that time. His friends offered written statements to the school in an attempt to help clear Justin.

Coming from a family with a history in military and law enforcement– his father is a retired police officer who also ranked as a Colonel in the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office– Sexton says he enlisted in the Coast Guard as much for the honor of serving his country as for the assistance the Guard will provide in paying for college.

However, no number of friendly explanations, family connections, or positive career plans can counter zero-tolerance. Sexton was not welcome back in Fluvanna County High School anytime soon.

On February 15, he learned exactly how long. At a meeting including assistant superintendent Maurice Carter, Sexton and his father were informed of the punishment Carter was recommending to the school board: a 364-day suspension.

Not only would Sexton not get to graduate or attend his senior prom, he stood to lose his acceptance to college and to the Coast Guard's Officer Candidate Program, since several of the prerequisites aren't offered through the alternative education program the County offers to ousted students.

"Something is definitely wrong," Col. Sexton would later write in an appeal, noting that if his daughter, a Fluvanna High junior, had driven his truck to school that day, she might be the one facing expulsion, even though she's never even operated an airsoft.

"This can't just be a cut and dry possession," Col. Sexton wrote, "when a student's education and future can be affected so drastically."

Oh, yes it can.

Where's the common sense?

"We're in a real crisis, looking at zero tolerance," says the Rutherford Institute's Whitehead. "Zero tolerance kicks you out even though you don't intend to break a rule."

Whitehead says the implementation of this type of inflexible disciplinary policy has not reduced violations, and does nothing to stop the violence they were designed to prevent.

"Does it prevent the crazy kid? No, it doesn't prevent the kid you really want to stop," he says. "What they're doing is majoring on minors– spitwads, squirt guns. They're still not watching the troubled kids."

The Charlottesville-based Virginia School Boards Association agrees that zero tolerance isn't preferable as a disciplinary policy. While the organization includes zero tolerance as one of the sample policies school districts can adopt, "We have recommended that school boards adopt a case-by-case basis" policy, says the Association's executive director Frank Barham. "Federal law allows you to do zero tolerance, but zero takes out the human factor," he explains.  

Albemarle County and Charlottesville both use a "case-by-case" policy, giving administrators discretion as long as they stay within Virginia state law, which requires possession of firearms on school grounds be reported to law and that some disciplinary action be commenced.

While Fluvanna's policy isn't zero tolerance across the board– the district allows administrators some discretion for minor infractions– the section of code regarding "weapons" leaves school-level administrators no wiggle room.

"The disciplinary sanction for bringing a firearm to school or to a school sponsored activity is expulsion for at least one year," it reads, then listing a range of "weapons" including any knife, slingshot, or any air rifle or B.B. gun, even any toy gun.

"Violation of this policy shall require that proceedings for the discipline of the student involved be initiated immediately by the principal."

Armed with the report from Mason and Scales and the airsoft they'd discovered, Sexton says Fluvanna County High School principal James Barlow did just that, recommending to the superintendent the one year expulsion demanded by the school's code.

Associate principal Mason declined comment on Justin's case specifically, citing confidentiality of student records, but speaking generally, she insists that in matters concerning weapons, she has no discretion.

"My opinion is to do my job," says Mason. "There's not room for judgment at my level."

As for Scales, who initiated the search based on the capless Aquafina bottle, he says he believes he handled Justin's situation in the best way possible.

"There's nothing I would have changed," he says, declining further comment. 

Superintendent Carter says he believes Fluvanna's discipline policy is working, and while he also declines to comment on Sexton's case, he claims he does have the discretion to alter the recommended punishment in any disciplinary matter. In Sexton's case, he simply chose not to.

Lonely days

So it was that Justin Sexton was barred from the grounds of Fluvanna High School, where for the previous three and half years he'd been a model student, not only playing on the football team but serving in the Student Government Association.

He began spending his mornings attending alternative education classes, and every afternoon he worked at Master's Auto Body shop in Charlottesville. At night, he says, he did his homework and tried to avoid thinking about what would happen if his ODU and Coast Guard acceptances got revoked.

"It was real nerve-wracking," he says. "I was trying to look at the positive, but it crossed my mind."

His girlfriend of 10 months, a 2009 Fluvanna High grad who is now a freshman at ODU, stood by him, says Sexton. But his friends, although he appears to have many, couldn't get together with him as often, as they were occupied with the school activities in which they'd previously participated together.

"They were all busy," he says without anger.

For his father, watching a son whose future had been filled with promise face what he sees as an unfair persecution was painful.

"I couldn't believe they would try to pull something like this with someone who's been trying to use the system to get educated," says the elder Sexton. "I can't understand why they would push that so hard."

But in the end, the Fluvanna community pushed harder, lifting Justin's spirits and, perhaps, helping to turn the tide. A Facebook group created by his girlfriend and dedicated to his reinstatement soon swelled to over 1,000 members. Friends, family, and strangers inundated the school board with letters. And an official appeal was lodged.

On Thursday, March 4, Sexton and his father went before the Fluvanna County School Board to present their case including raising the issue of the pick-up truck's open bed, into which anyone could place anything.

"Any disgruntled student against another student certainly could get revenge by simply placing an airsoft rifle in another student's vehicle," the elder Sexton wrote, "and that would automatically cause the student to be expelled."

He pointed out an apparent violation of the school's own written policy, which points out that "students should be told of their right to refuse to be searched, and students must not perceive [themselves] at risk of punishment for refusing to grant permission for the search." And Justin says he wanted the school board to understand that granting the search was proof he didn't know about the airsoft.

"If I knew that was in there," he says, "I wouldn't have let them search my truck."

Within an hour, with a vote of 4-2, Justin Sexton was reinstated. He resumed classes the following morning.


A month after his return to school, Justin says he's ready to put the incident behind him. Catching up on missed classwork was a challenge, he says, but he's managed, proudly noting that his most recent report card reflected all As. Students welcomed him back enthusiastically.

"Everyone was coming, jumping on me, saying 'So glad you got back in, it wasn't the same without you.'" 

But while he's happy it's over, he says he doesn't want the same thing to happen to another Fluvanna student and he hopes his situation will serve as a learning experience for administrators.

"I wasn't guilty of anything here," he notes, adding, "if it happens to anyone else, I've got their back."

None of the six Fluvanna County School Board members were willing to comment on the matter, and the Hook was unable to find anyone willing to defend the concept of punishing a student for a contraband toy he didn't know he had.

Col. Sexton, sitting in his Palmyra-area living room, shakes his head, still seemingly stunned by the decision by Superintendant Carter.

"He says, 'I can put your son back in school tomorrow or I can recommend expulsion. He picked the maximum." Carter declines to discuss the case.

The Rutherford Institute's Whitehead says he hopes schools will move toward discipline policies based on intent and on severity– not hysteria.

In late 1999, a Florida teen was suspended for bringing a nail-clipper to school. More than ten years later, Justin Sexton just lost five weeks of school for a toy he didn't know he possessed.

Blanket punishments and zero tolerance, Whitehead says, are the polar opposite of the Constitution protections students should be learning in their classes. 

"It undermines the whole idea of what we stand for in this country," he says. "It's nuts."

"I can't believe they would try to pull something like this with someone who's been trying to use the system to get educated," says Justin's father, Tim Sexton, a retired police officer who also ranked as Colonel in the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Department.

"I was scared," says Justin Sexton of the time he spent waiting to learn his fate.

Fluvanna County High School's weapon policy demands that students in possession of any weapon, including toy guns, be suspended for one year, regardless of whether they knew they possessed it.

Sexton says the school still has his friend's airsoft, a replica of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle similar to the one pictured.

Fluvanna County High School's Homecoming King and a football player, Justin Sexton's admission to Old Dominion University and the Coast Guard were jeopardized by his year-long suspension.



By his own admission, Justin was aware of the multiple serious school rules, yet he choose to break them. Does this mean he believes he is above these rules because he is popular?
I see all the evidence of his status of a "model student" as being popular, not a good role model.
Why does the media continue to paint a picture of this student as being a victim? He made his choices and he should face the consequences, even if he does not agree with them. Do we want being popular and connect to be a exonerating fact in such matters? Is this the lesson we want the next generation to learn?

You read a different article than the one I did if you think that this kid chose to break rules. Zero tolerance = zero thinking. Fire Maurice Carter, kids in Fluvanna deserve much better than him.

This is about teaching kids how to live in a police state, nothing else.

I vote that Carter, Scales and Mason all be replaced. All three of them sound like a total waste of taxpayer money.

aghast- The article is quoted several times admitting that this kid knowingly broke rules. Rules that are sent from the federal government, mind you.
-- "The administrator told Sexton he believed the container held tobacco spit, something Sexton didn't doubt"
-- "Sexton quickly owned up to a pack of cigarettes in the cab, offering to hand them over even with the knowledge that their existence on school grounds would bring a ... suspension."
He wasn't picked on, his constitutional rights were not broken. He possessed drug paraphernalia on school grounds in plain sight. That is enough for probable cause for a complete vehicle search. The administration in fact was his friend because they could have made it a police matter and then he'd be making his pleas of unjustice from jail.
Gasbag- Are you suggesting we fire personnel for doing their jobs, but let criminals go free because they say they are innocent or mistreated?

You consider cigarettes and/or tobacco spit to be drug paraphernalia?

Fess up now.... are you Carter, Scales or Mason?

So his dad USED to be with the Fluvanna Sheriff's office but still goes by COLONEL? Seems to me like dad is on a bit of a power trip, huh? What the hell is a Colonel anyway?

The big issue here isn't that he had the tobacco, though. If he'd gotten the one-day suspension, it probably wouldn't have been news. The issue is that he was given a year's suspension for possessing an airsoft rifle that he didn't know he had. The punishment didn't seem to fit the crime.

I'm not sure this story is a good example of why zero-tolerance doesn't work, though. The superintendent DID have the option to alter the punishment, but chose not to. Why not? Makes me wonder if there's more to this story than we're getting here. And then the school board did let him back into school, and all is well now. I wonder, if he'd been an unpopular C student with no college plans, whose parents worked at Wal-Mart, would the school board have shown him any sympathy for the same offense?

Well, the web master is starting to pull my posts. I guess the terms of commenting are limited to following the crowd.
Tobacco is illegal on school property, regardless of age. Schools are designated as drug-free zones and alcohol/tobacco are not allowed on any school property at any time. The "toy" is outlawed in many municipalities. Its use in public has resulted in death, not from the toy itself, but by the fact that it is often easily confused with an actual weapon. This has resulted in several police shootings, so banning these so-call toys is for the safety of the public.

"I wonder, if he'd been an unpopular C student with no college plans, whose parents worked at Wal-Mart, would the school board have shown him any sympathy for the same offense? "

And would the Hook have done a story on him? Doubtful.

The message is clear. Good looking, popular kids should get off the hook (pun intended) for breaking the rules! There should be no consequences for breaking the rules if you are a kid with a future. The kids with no future should be punished to the full extent of the law and the media should cheer that punishment! See? Fair and Balanced.

1. it's in the car...not on "school property"
2. agree with "and also..." if he were just average would the Hook have done the story?
3. Zero tolerance should go BOTH ways...administration as well as students....
Zero tolerance to administrative "mistakes" and "overlooks" overlooking bullying. No more, "oh, we didn't know" or "we could have done better with that policy"..
4. remember that Zero Tolerance will allow the radical administrative types to go "overboard" with it. They'll use it to weed out the "average and below average" kids to make sure "no child left behind" is followed.

The car is on school property, so everything in the car is on school property.

Black/white thinking is often cited as one of the symptoms of various personality disorders according to the DSM IV manual. So by that logic, anybody who views this case with such extreme black/white all or nothing logic, unable to utilize common sense and see shades of gray is for all intents and purposes, quite likely to be mentally unbalanced.

Just my two cents.

Hey boooo!. If your name was Hooray! you might have a more positive outlook on thigs, like me! Everyone on these boards is mentally unbalanced anyway, myself included, but just dont want to/cant admit it, but hey, we're livin'!

Actually I do have a positive outlook on things. My handle is my own inside joke since I spend a lot of time thinking "BOOOOOO!" to the various comments I see here. :D So that's where it came from. But in life I do have a glass half full, optimistic, hope for the best approach.

Any yeah, everybody is unbalanced to some degree, but I'm not getting the holier than tthou, self righteous ego trippin' black and white extremist views of those who are out to persecute this kid. It's clear that the punishment did not fit the crime, and their reaction was way overboard. I read what they did and I'm just left thinking, "Slow day at work?? Not much goin' on, huh?? Nothing better to do with your time?" I'm with Gasbag in that the school officials who went after this kid and took it as far as they did are a waste of taxpayer's money.

*And, not Any!

booo!, let me tell you another school related tale. I just found out today that Charlottesville High School is giving the kids a fit over parking. All year long, and no parking enforcement. But with 6 weeks of school left, they're out to force as many kida as possible to purchase and dsiplay the $10.00 permits. This of course is all about MONEY. Ripping another $10.00 out of the kid's pockets.

But the point being, it's just another $75,000 to $100,000 a year salaried school administrator running around outside as a parking lot attendent. Another total waste in a high paid school position.

My daughter has 6 weeks left in the hell holes we call city public schools. I'm just lucky to have made it through 12 years of their foolishness without going off. This 12 years of foolishness first started when my daughter was in the first grade and a teacher told me I would not walk my daughter into the school each morning when a few older kids were picking on her. I had to put her in her place real quick. Thereafter it seemed like there was something new every year. Almost as if the schools like to make life on the kids. And that's all that happened in the case this story is about. A big whoop-to-do about nothing.

I hear you. And it's why I've said repeatedly that I'm glad I don't have kids myself and don't plan to, because these times we live in are out of control. I wouldn't be able to tolerate the public school system. It's a prison indoctrination camp designed to drive the life spark out of kids and recondition their minds, turning them into obedient mind controlled servants of the system, nothing more. I hear stories from friends who have kids and I read stories in the news about how bad things have gotten in schools and I'm just glad it's not me going through it. Either as a parent, or a kid myself. If I did have kids it could only be under ideal circumstances, where I have enough money to ensure homeschooling. Which I don't think is legal in the state of Virginia. So obviously I'd have to move to a state where it is legal.

This is a very gray matter. Yes, he shouldn't have brought the gun on school property, but he didn't know about it. He admitted that it was wrong, but I'm 100% positive that if he knew it was in his truck, he would have taken it out and left it at home. This kid is smart and clearly he is not a trouble maker. The zero tolerance is a good rule, but nothing is every black and white.

I dunno, some simple guidelines for anything involving airsoft including school...

So this kid is planning on going into the military. What does he think will happen when he breaks the rules there? Dad will come to the rescue? He will be on his own and his whining won't help him. Being in the military however, will make him grow up, and take responsibility for his actions without a bunch of lame excuses.

KAR, why don't we just give the kid 15 years in jail, and suspend 5 of it? Keep him on probation for 10 years after his release. It's obvious the kid and his father both are lying.

(Please forgive me, but somehow I just couldn't compose a reply any more sarcastic than this!)

Some parents try to raise good honest kids. And they still get screwed over after doing a good job of it.

Some people will only see what they want to see when they read this story, and it's quite obvious that a few of the facts surrounding Justin - that he was prom king, football player, worked three part time jobs while maintaining a 3.2 GPA, popular, had a girlfriend, dad was a cop, etc. etc. - cause some automatic biases and predjudices within some people who read it.

I hate to pull out the old "you're just jealous haters" excuse, but, yeah, I think the black/white thinking, self righteous, holier than thou naysayers really are probably just a bunch of jealous haters. They weren't popular football playing prom kings with girlfriends in highschool who came from good, middle class homes, so they harp on this kid for those things because they didn't get to have it themselves.

Those things were mentioned about Justin in the article for a reason - to make people realize that this kid wasn't a troublemaker with a history of deviant criminal activity. He was a good kid who happened to cross paths on the wrong day with some overzealous gestapo school administrators who lacked common sense and didn't know when to quit.

All of his classmates should come to school with airsoft rifles. Get the whole class expelled and see how the school board enforces they're misguided zero tolerance. Good luck Justin.

You are so right - a lot of parents do raise good honest kids. Many don't break school rules. Many never get in trouble at all. He drove a vehicle on campus that wasn't registered, brought cigarettes on campus, and whether knowingly or unknowingly, brought a gun that looks very real on campus. When will parents stop making excuses for their children (Or in this case an 18 year old) when they break the rules and stop blaming school administrators, the police, and anyone else they can find to blame. Parents, please start teaching your kids there are consequences for their actions – there will be consequences while they are while in school and there will be throughout all of life.

Just one phrase for schools officials nowadays....Power Trip....

While I realize they must stay in control of the school and Columbine and VA Tech make us paranoid...there is a limit and it was breached in this case. Good judgement of this situation would have gone a long way with the GP if someone would have stopped, thought and not gone on a power trip. Face it, he is 18 and he is gonna do some dumb stuff (tobacco in his truck). But to make a scapegoat out of someone who was totally oblivious to the "toy" gun is a crime in itself. And Yeah, Jake Durfee, I agree with you, this is a gray area...that's why good judgement should be exercised, both parties included.

boooo!, a bunch of jealous haters? I'm inclined to agree with you. People think Sexton got off the hook because he was an excellent, popular and well known student. Just like a terrible car wreck, they were hoping to see the carnage created in this young man's life.

KAR, "unregistered" where? Unregistered to the school administariton and school property? Whenever my daughter's vehicle is in the shop for repairs, maintenace or inspection, she drives one of my other vehicles to school. I'm not buying school parking permits for every vehicle I own. If the school doesn't like it, my daughter can park out on the city street legally and walk a block to school.

Gasbag - interesting you said your daughter can park on the street “legally” – there are rules and expectations for parking either in a school lot or on the street. If the student’s car, or the car the student is driving, is not registered with the school there are consequences, just as there is for parking illegally on the street. There are also rules for what can be brought on campus, just as there are rules for many places we go into. Can’t take outside food into the football game, can’t take a cell phone into the court house, - can’t take a weapon or anything that resembles a weapon onto school property. What is so difficult with that? All students are given the rules and expectations at the beginning of the school year. He claims he didn’t know – if he is old enough and smart enough to pass a drivers test, he should be old enough and smart enough to be aware of what’s in the vehicle he’s driving.

KAR, you don't know the rules and laws as well as you think you do. This is not unusual at all, many people do not have a clear understanding of many state laws and rules. Combined with the fact rules and state laws apply to different people in many different ways.

As a concealed weapons permit holder I can enter school property any time I want to with a firearm in my possession in my vehicle. I just can't go waltzing into the school building with it. Virginia state code 18.2-308.1 covers this. (quote from code: "or (vii) a person who has a valid concealed handgun permit and possesses a concealed handgun while in a motor vehicle in a parking lot, traffic circle, or other means of vehicular ingress or egress to the school.")

As a resident and taxpayer in the city in which I have lived for the past 40 years, I or my daughter can legally park any vehicle I own on a city street in a legal parking spot. The school has nothing to do with this arrangement if my daughter walks to school from a legal parking spot on a city street.

Some courts in Virginia do not allow cell phones. It's not a law though. I entered a court room for an hour long civil hearing last week with my cell phone. Being on a first name basis with everybody in the courthouse, maybe they bent the "rules" for me? On the other hand, when I agreed to drive 60 miles to a courthouse so the judge wouldn't have to come to me as the plaintiff in a civil matter, the deputy sheriffs would not let me enter the building. This shows what happens when you try to do somebody a favor, eh?

And to claim a child should do an inventory of a vehicle the parents have told them or allowed them to drive to school is just plain absurd, IMHO.

If you check out his facebook picture pages you will see he is not as sweet as he claims to be. Looks like lots of rules are being broken.

Gasbag, you are wrong. I do know education law. I have three graduate degrees in education. I hold certification as a teacher, counselor, principal, and superintendent. I have worked many years as a school administrator and I am presently working in education on the university level. You don’t get to where I am without knowing education law. Based on federal and state laws the school board sets school policy, the principal enforces the board policy. I don’t know of any school system that allows students to have either tobacco or a weapon on campus. I do know in most school districts if a student brings a weapon on campus the principal has the right to suspend the student for up to 364 days. Having been a military officer for 14 years i know contraband would result in an article 15 under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). I also know both colleges and the military have the right to withdraw their offers of acceptance if the student either gets into trouble or doesn’t maintain his or her grades. If this isn’t reported to the military before beginning officer candidate school the student has breached the contract and can face court-marshal. And the excuse “I’m 18, I can do what I want” doesn’t get anywhere in the military, nor does the excuse “I didn’t know”.


You mighty education expert and former officer: What percentage of article 15s result in separation from the military? Oh yeah, none...

The kid screwed up... if he had been given 10 or 30 days suspension that would have been reasonable given the facts as reported. This is more like losing your license for a year for driving 12 over the speed limit. If you have 9 other speeding tickets this year, yeah, that might make sense, but even if you have one other moving violation (e.g. a pack of cigarettes in the car) to take away your ability to get to work and support yourself for a minor indiscretion where no one got hurt (which if you kill a kid's chance at graduating and going to college is equivalent) is not a case of the punishment fitting the crime.

Fluvanna County High School runs like a branch of the Gestapo. Justin, dude, maybe you should go to law school so you can defend the students that will surely be subjected to such myopic decisions in the future. The citizens of Fluvanna should replace their school board.

Hey, Boooo, homeschooling is legal in Virginia. Just clarifying.

First , i take MY RESPONSIBILITY as a father very seriously.Like most, I have limited details on this case, but I have lived in this area my entire life and respectfully, I'd hire that teacher in a minute! Here's why..the spit bottle was a "red flag"...that and the smokes fall under the drug free school zone policy.Now , had they stopped there, it would have sent the right message because kids talk; Understand, it would only have been a message but it would have been the right one.
No one asked me to have kids but they did require me to enroll them in compusory education, but ...for the 1st 4 months of this school-year, the school was unable to account for the whereabouts of my daughter between the hours of 11a.m. and3p.m., that's 4hrs X 5days in a week for 4 months...she went to school on the bus, came home that way...cut to the chase.. one day as she returned home on the bus, I noticed her eyes were red and then that she smelled of smoke, further investigating, I asked her to empty her pockets revealing, drugs..talking to the school, they said they had warned her for being tardy and smelling of smoke..What would they have found had they not ignored this "red flag"? ..It turns out she had been leaving campus with an adult male, who by engaging in sex with a minor committed statutory rape, the school had no clue about this and I don't blame them for my daughters' actions, but I assumed she was in the building that I as her father can't even enter without checking in for student safety. Well,this went on so long without our knowledge, that the police response was "she's almost legal.." I'll w8 while u chew on that....EXCUSE ME? it's "almost not rape.." ? Would he say that if this was his daughter? Is she less deserving of protection because I am working class/white trash? this is the "logic" I ran into, which takes me back to young MR Sexton, I have no belief that he knew that toy gun was in the truck, and had they applied reasonable logic the punishment would have sent the right message rather than the grey, fuzziness debated on this page, adding to the "Teachers are SO dumb" mentallity that Superteens are so comfortable with. Any way that's my 2 cents, and 4 the record I homeschool now to ease the burden on the system. :)

I'm glad to see this story featured & I am also glad that Justin was allowed back in school, however, I do wish that this story had come out a few years ago when my son was in 11th grade at Fluvanna. He went through something similar at the hands of Patty Mason. It is my belief that he became a target because he had the audacity to request the school administration say something to the students who were continuously harrasing him because he was openly gay. He was not a popular A+ student or a football player. He was an average student (in a one parent household) who was much more interested in working on cars, going to J. Sargeant Reynolds to his automotive class & working part-time after school to finance his love of cars. My son had been in Fluvanna county schools since the 3rd grade and had never been in trouble before the incident, which in the end caused him to realize that if he returned to Fluvanna High School for 12th grade he would constantly have to be looking over his shoulder & the other students would be the last of his worries. It was easier, in his mind, to drop out.
My son is 19 now and hence his story is old & no matter how unfair it was, nothing can be done now except to hopefully CORRECT the problems within the administation for the future students in Fluvanna Schools. I also think it should be brought to light that had Justin been 17 - like my son was at the time - he would NOT have been allowed to call his father or had the option to "consent" to the search as in the case of my son who was not given either option.
I have two other sons and I have moved them out of Fluvanna & into another county & I am happy to have that nasty taste, of the Fluvanna high school administration, out of my mouth.

I think schools over react to these situations. I can see why they're upset, but a year's suspension and refusal of college acceptance? That's way too far! People should really learn the difference between a firearm and a replica, most school officials don't even know what airsoft is. Some schools even react this way to guns meant for action figures. One school wanted to suspend and press charges against a five year old for playing with a lego man who was holding a 2 inch rifle, TWO inches long and they called it a weapon. That's not right, same for zero tolerance. These cases should be investigated, that way, nobody jumps to conclusions.

Are you sure this is not the principal from CCS. I know that school has a hard time knowing what discipline to dish out to what child.

Certainly another case of "one size fits all" Zero Tolerance results in injustice.
Schools need to make a distinction between what is a weapon as legally defined, and what could conceivably be used as a weapon-which could be almost anything. A student could pick up a chair and hit someone, or stab them with a pencil. So ban chairs and pencils.
That would end ridiculous things like kids getting suspended for a nail file or a pair of small scissors.
In the real world a police officer would stop someone if told they were carrying a gun concealed, without a permit. But tell a cop someone has a nail file in her purse, and he might ask you to take a breath test!
Likewise with drug policy. Legal substances and illegal ones (which would include alcohol and tobacco for those underage) should not be treated the same way.
In fact legal drugs should not even be subject to restriction, unless it was believed someone was selling them for someone to abuse, or in the case of very young children not know how to use them properly. But a teenage girl with a bottle of advil or something in her purse for headaches or "that time of the month" should not have to be worried about being treated like a drug pusher.
In fact many years ago when I was sub teaching at Charlottesville High one of my students was so kind as to let me have some Tylenol for a headache. Now we both would go jail.
Those Fluvanna administrators must be cut from the same cloth as Principal Snyder was.
(For those who lived in a cave somewhere the past 10 years thats a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference).

I mean there should have been some kind of action taken, but this is too extreme. I think what needs to happen is more education about about the laws and regulations regarding airsoft. If you're a parent reading this and are considering airsoft, or your children are asking you to buy an airsoft gun, I would go to this resource.

this retailer is really great at informing parents of the proper use and laws regarding the sport of airsoft.

Just so you know KAR, his dad actually barley helped with this. Justin and 1,000 other people took initiative to decide it was wrong. You dont know Justin, He doesn't lie, He is a great kid, he is nice to everyone, and you dont know his life story so stop acting like you can read him like a book. He DID take responsibility for his actions, hence admitting to the ciggarettes. (which also were not his) The gun however, was something he was completely clueless about. Lets get real, if he knew it was there would he really have let them search it? No.

KAR, you obviously dont know aboiut school and edcation punishments, because if you did, you would know that the handbook says, a toy gun is 10 days out, more punishment can be given for other circumstances. They gave him the one of the worst punishments for no reasons. If you knew these administrators you would be on Justins side in a heart beat. Next time you put your nose in a story and have an opinion, please know what you are talking about.

First of all, if you are a peer of his your argument would be more successful if you sent your response through spell check and grammar check before posting.
Secondly, if you go back and read the information about airsoft guns from the link that Marcus included in his post, you would find two very relevant comments; “The main concern surrounding airsoft gun safety is the realistic nature of the weapons themselves. Airsoft guns are exact replicas of lethal firearms in both appearance and weight.” And “Many children don’t realize that even though their airsoft guns are toys, they are not appropriate items to bring into the classroom or onto school grounds. As a result of this lack of understanding on the child’s part, disruption and panic can ensue. On top of that, with the recent zero-tolerance policy regarding bringing weapons (whether real or otherwise) onto school property, there may be serious repercussions. So, if you are a parent reading this, be aware that if your child brings an airsoft gun to school they may be suspended, expelled, or possibly arrested.” Even the nation’s biggest retailer of airsoft guns knows enough to warn users about the consequences of bringing the guns onto school property.

This situation is similar to what is happening to my son in Bucks County Pa. And Superintendent, Director of Pupil Services and the principal are not looking at the student, they are just looking at the policy. One size fits all, we are throwing away good students caught up in situations. It is terrible!!!!