School officials in Sanford, NC have suspended* a young high school girl for the rest of the year because she accidentally brought her dad's lunchbox to school, which contained a small paring knife used to cut an apple.
17-year-old senior Ashley Smithwick, an academic and athletic standout who's even won beauty pageants, was suspended from Southern Lee High School in October after school officials found the knife in her lunchbox during a random search for drugs.
But as it turns out, the lunchbox wasn't hers -- it actually belonged to her father, Joe. Ashley and Joe have matching lunchboxes.
“She got pulled into it. She doesn’t have to be a bad person to be searched,” Joe told WRAL-TV. “It’s just an honest mistake. That was supposed to be my lunch because it was a whole apple."
WRAL reports Ashley has now been charged with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds:
Ashley Smithwick said she had never gotten in trouble before and was surprised when the principal opened her lunchbox and found the knife.
The teen was initially given a 10-day suspension, then received notice that she was suspended the rest of the school year.
"I don’t understand why they would even begin to point the finger at me and use me as an example," she said.
This month, Ashley Smithwick, a soccer player who takes college-level courses, was charged with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds. She is no longer allowed to set foot on campus.
“They made it sound like it was a big ol’ buck knife that you’re out here hunting with,” Joe Smithwick said.
School officials told WRAL they could not comment on the case, but school Superintendent Jeff Moss did say that the principal can take into account intent when deciding such matters.
“When the principals conduct their investigations, what typically is fleshed out is the true intent,” he told the Sanford Herald. “Bottom line is we want to ensure every child feels safe on our campus.”
In Ashley's eyes, "true intent" was simply a case of mistaken lunchbox identity. It remains to be seen if the school's principal agrees. For now, the principal doesn't seem to. And for Ashley, who maintains a 3.5 GPA, that could have drastic consequences.
“When you have a criminal record no school’s going to look at you,” she to WRAL . “I have a pretty nice talent. I’m good at playing soccer and that talent is just wasted now."
*The story originally used the word "expelled." It has been updated to reflect the official language used in the news agency's report -- the student has been suspended for the rest of the year.