Andrew Mikel II, a freshman honor student and Junior ROTC cadet at Spotsylvania High School in Virginia, hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy after he graduates. But for now, the 14-year-old is at home, serving out a suspension sentence handed down from school administrators after he shot plastic "spitwads" at other students.
Last December, Andrew was punished for using the hollow body of a ballpoint pen to blow small plastic pellets at three students during his lunch period.
At first, Andrew was slapped with a 10-day suspension, but the county school board later voted to extend his punishment, citing the school's Student Code of Conduct no-tolerance policy that requires any student found with "any type of weapon, or object used to intimidate, threaten or harm others" be "expelled for a minimum of 365 days" unless "special circumstances exist."
Andrew's family claims the school is "criminalizing childish behavior" and the freshman is filing an appeal to be reinstated.
But the youngster's problems could go well-beyond the schoolyard. The school district referred the "assault" case to the Spotsylania Sheriff's Office which has charged Mikel with three separate misdemeanor criminal counts.
Andrew is now serving out a community service sentence and has been forced to enroll in substance abuse and anger management counseling to avoid further prosecution.
Is there a difference between a kid blowing spitwads at fellow students and a criminal charged with possession of a weapon and misdemeanor assault?
No, according to Spotsylvania Police Capt. Liz Scott. "Assault is assault is assault," she told Fox News. "There were three victims that were involved in this, and I think the public needs to remember that," she added.
The school's assistant principal agrees. During a December 21 disciplinary hearing, Lisa Andruss said Mikel's behavior indicated a disturbing trend because he was disciplined in junior high for shooting rubber bands. In addition, he was suspended in 8th grade for bringing a comb to school that resembled a pocket knife.
The school guidance department told Andrew that as a result of his tarnished record, he will no longer be considered as a viable candidate for the Naval Academy.
The whole situation has Mikel's parents baffled. Andrew Mikel Sr., a former Navy Seabee and Marine officer, told Fox News that he's been left "scratching my head at the whole thing."
"One thing is he must attend substance abuse counseling – he's never had a substance abuse issue in his life," he said.
"Right from the get go the Assistant Principal Lisa Andruss said, 'Come pick up your son, he's being suspended for 10 days, we're recommending expulsion, and we're going to push this to the fullest extent of the law," he continued. "When I arrived she showed me what amounts to a pee shooter: a plastic pen casing about four inches long and these little plastic balls that he'd had from a toy guy that he had years ago and found in his closet recently. This thing is harmless."
Andrew admits his stunt was dumb and only did it because he "thought it would be cool."
Since the school decided to expel him for the remainder of the school year, the family has enlisted legal help from The Rutherford Institute, a "civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated."
"What happened to Andrew Mikel is an example of how oppressive zero-tolerance policies have become," John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute says. "School officials have developed a very dangerous mindset that allows virtually no freedom for students, while at the same time criminalizing childish behavior."
"My son did an infraction and he deserves a just punishment, but this is like cutting someone's hand off for stealing a piece of cabbage," Andrew's father said. "If my son, instead of shooting a spitball, went up and punched a student right in the face he would only have gotten five days suspension and even if he'd drawn blood the school resource officer said police still wouldn't have gotten involved." But since police and school officials are considering Mikel's spitwad shooter as a "weapon," the case has taken on a whole new meaning.
"It takes four state agencies to go after someone with a spitwad: It takes the sheriff's department, the commonwealth attorney, the school board on various levels and the department of juvenile justice … what a fine use of taxpayer resources," he added.
The Mikels plan to appeal their son's disciplinary sentence next week and hope that his record will be cleared.