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Cherokee student whose gun charge was dismissed remains banned from campus

Jeff Bobo • Aug 6, 2019 at 8:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — No Hawkins County school officials were jailed Tuesday in Chancery Court, and a Cherokee High School sophomore who was arrested last year for gun possession on campus will continue his education, albeit off-campus.

A hearing was held Tuesday in Hawkins County Chancery Court to determine if one of two boys arrested for gun possession at Cherokee on March 29, henceforth referred to as “the student,” would be allowed to attend classes on campus this school year.

This past June, criminal charges were dismissed against the student, and his parents were seeking a permanent injunction on the one year ban from campus imposed as part of the Hawkins County School System’s zero tolerance policy.

The result of Tuesday’s hearing was similar to a compromise offered by Director of Schools Matt Hixson on July 15, which involved a long stint of homebound or Virtual Academy instruction for the student, followed by a short stint of alternative school before returning to campus on March 30, 2020 — one year and one day after the arrest.

There was also a second motion filed by the student’s attorney, Paul Whetstone, seeking to have several school officials held in contempt of court and jailed for 10 days for allegedly not allowing the student to attend classes Monday.

Chancellor Doug Jenkins had signed a temporary restraining order last week allowing the student to attend school pending the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing. However, the student and his aunt were kept in the office Monday while transcripts were being sought, and they later left and called Whetstone. 

Those named in Whetstone’s original contempt motion included Hixson, acting Cherokee Principal Thomas Floyd, and all seven members of the Hawkins County Board of Education.

The Times News was not allowed in the courtroom during Tuesday’s hearing due the student being a juvenile.

Prior to the courtroom being cleared, however, Whetstone informed Jenkins that he was amending his contempt motion to include only Floyd, who Whetstone alleged was the administrator on campus and was chiefly responsible for keeping his client out of class Monday.

Jenkins eventually dismissed Whetstone’s contempt motion, noting that the student wasn’t prevented from entering the school Monday.

Also prior to the courtroom being cleared, Hawkins County Attorney Jim Phillips stated that although criminal charges against the student were dismissed, his evidence would show that the student failed to report the presence of the gun after he discovered it had been placed in his backpack, in violation of school policy.

Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Bobby Moffitt was among the witnesses attending the hearing.

A report filed by Moffitt in Hawkins County Juvenile Court on March 31 stated that the boy who brought a .38-caliber pistol and six bullets to school on March 29 admitted that some of his friends saw the pistol, so he put it in a backpack belonging to the student to avoid being caught with it.

The student reportedly told Moffitt that he saw the other boy put something in his backpack, and he pulled out a video cassette holder that contained the pistol. The student also reportedly told Moffitt he saw it was a pistol, put it back in his backpack, and didn't report it.

Moffitt further stated in his report that the student initially stated he didn’t have any knowledge about the pistol, but later admitted he had knowledge of it.

On July 15, Hixson offered to allow the student to receive homebound instruction or to attend Virtual Academy for most of the 2019-20 school year. If he stays out of trouble, he could attend alternative school March 9-20, and then return to Cherokee on March 30.

That proposal was rejected by the family.

Whetstone had stated in his original motion that being banned from campus would permanently stunt his aspirations to attend vocational training to be a commercial electrician.

“At the end of the day, the student gets his education, and we are consistent in providing a safe environment for all students,” Hixson told the Times News after Tuesday's hearing.

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