Court Upholds Suspension of N.Y. Student With Gun

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New York states highest court ruled last week that New York City school administrators were entitled to suspend a high school student for bringing a gun to school.

The April 1 decision reverses a lower court ruling that barred school officials from carrying out their own discipline against the young man.

The case stems from an incident dating back to 1992. A 15-year-old identified as Juan C. was a student at William Howard Taft High School in the New York City borough of the Bronx when a school security aide saw a bulge in the youth's coat and suspected him of carrying a gun. Officials found a gun, and the student was charged in family court with weapons possession.

A family court judge dismissed the charge after declaring that the security aide did not have probable cause to search the boy. Thus, the judge ruled that the search had been unconstitutional.

School officials, in a separate proceeding, held that the search was reasonable, and they suspended Juan C. for one year.

With the help of the Legal Aid Society of New York, the boy later filed a lawsuit against the district to expunge the suspension from his school record.

In a decision that caused an uproar among New York City teachers and administrators, a mid-level state appeals court last fall ruled in favor of the boy, holding that the family court's disposition in the case was legally binding on the school system's disciplinary proceedings. ("Ruling That Overturned Suspension of Student With Gun Assailed," Oct. 2, 1996.)

But a unanimous Court of Appeals last week reversed the appellate court's ruling. The high court said that the district's interests were not represented at the family court proceeding, and, consequently, the judge's decision about the search was not binding on the school disciplinary case.

New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew said that the judgment will result in safer schools because administrators will not have to fear that their every effort to bar weapons from schools will be ruled illegal.

But Carol Goldstein of the Legal Aid Society of New York said that the opinion also emphasized that school officials must respect the constitutional rights of students.

Her organization does not plan further appeals, she said.


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