Toledo Public Schools officials yesterday started expulsion proceedings against eight Bowsher High School students accused in an incident that caused widespread fear and absenteeism.
A school administrator said one or more of the expelled students claimed to have had a vengeance list - a threat that summoned memories of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
Meanwhile, one expelled student said yesterday he didn't threaten anybody or intend to cause a panic.
The incident occurred Tuesday when “Goth” style students sitting at a cafeteria table began defacing pages from the Bible and putting them in their mouths.
The incident drew a verbal confrontation from other students. By the end of the day, rumors of retaliation lists spread through the school and, on Wednesday, about half of the 1,340 students stayed home.
The lists purportedly targeted athletes, cheerleaders, “preppies,” and blacks.
In a statement, the district said the eight students were served yesterday with a notice of “removal with intent to expel.” They can be expelled for 11 to 80 days.
The reason given was “disorderly conduct and other good and just cause.”
The order to expel and the length of the expulsion will be determined by a hearing officer designated by Superintendent Eugene Sanders, said Janice Kilbride, school improvement leader for the Bowsher area.
An 80-day expulsion could set those students back a full year because the current semester does not end until late January. By the time they would return, the second semester would be well under way.
Ms. Kilbride said expelled students may not be enrolled in any other public schools during the expulsion. They may enroll in a private school, if those schools will accept them.
“There were statements that were serious enough and repercussions serious enough that we felt intent to expel was appropriate,” Ms. Kilbride said. “We did not find a list. We did find some references to a list, but there never was a list found.
“In light of the Columbine incident, anytime kids mention a list you have now gone beyond freedom of speech,” Ms. Kilbride said.
Twelve students, one teacher, and two teenage gunmen died in the April 20, 1999, attack in the Littleton, Colo., high school.
The eight Bowsher students included one of those who confronted the Goth group, Ms. Kilbride said.
The students were wearing Gothic-style clothes in advance of the Marilyn Manson concert scheduled at the Sports Arena that night. Gothic followers wear black clothing, and often use black makeup.
A junior at Bowsher High School claimed yesterday that he was being expelled for sitting at a table and for wearing black clothes.
Junior Scott Pelow, 17, said the incident was planned apparently to declare the group's atheism, and that he skipped part of his world history class to be present. He said he didn't know of plans to deface the Bible.
His mother said her son is being expelled for inadequate reasons.
“They said it was inducing panic and inciting riot because other kids didn't like that these kids were tearing pages out of the Bible, which I believe is freedom of speech and First Amendment,” Connie Pelow said.
She said administrators told her that her son made a poor choice in skipping class and sitting at the table.
“I was just announcing that I didn't believe in God, my atheist views. I wanted to make that statement,” Mr. Pelow said.
“People started surrounding the lunch table telling us we were going to hell and we were bad, even though it's our choice to believe what we want to believe,” Mr. Pelow said.
He said there was no violence, other than that a half-full pop bottle was thrown at him.
Mr. Pelow said that after the incident died down, the day resumed, but by day's end the building was alive with rumors.
He said it's possible that people who sat at his table uttered threats. “It's possible, but not that I know of,” Mr. Pelow said.
“Other people might have threatened violent acts against me or one of the six other people and might have prompted them to make statements they didn't mean,” Mr. Pelow said.
He agreed that “if they did make threats, yes, they should be expelled.”
The expulsion order came with the endorsement of school board President Larry Sykes.
“I recommended expelling all seven. They violated the safe school ordinance, created a near riot,” Mr. Sykes said, referring to the Goth followers. “That's tantamount to gang activity.” The eighth student's name was added after Mr. Sykes was apprised of the incident.
The high school has been screening for weapons every day. Yesterday, the school confiscated pagers, but returned them at the end of the day.
Dr. Sanders insisted that each student will be assured of due process. He said the issues on which disciplinary action will be based are school safety and inducing panic, not the students' clothing.