School's reach key in gun case
Willows student has backing of NRA
A case that has drawn national attention because of the involvement of the National Rifle Association had no mention of gunowner rights at a Tuesday morning expulsion hearing.
Instead, the appeal of the expulsion of Willows High School junior Gary Tudesko, 17, turned more on the interpretation of the state education code and what discretion the school district had in the matter.
The 31⁄2-hour hearing before the Glenn County Board of Education did not have an immediate resolution. The board is expected to issue its decision about whether Tudesko will be allowed to return to class at Friday.
Tudesko's expulsion came after sniffer dogs alerted trainers to two shotguns and hunting ammunition in his pickup truck on Oct. 26. He and a friend had gone duck hunting before school. The truck was parked off campus.
Susan Parisio, Tudesko's mother, appealed to the Willows Unified School board, which upheld the expulsion. The appeal then went to the county board on Dec. 16.
The NRA and another gun rights group helped pay for the attorney fees to defend Tudesko. The gun rights element of the case has stirred controversy in a community with a large hunter population.
Marc Juhl-Darlington, Willows Unified School District's attorney, cited the education code in support of the expulsion, claiming schools have jurisdiction over student actions on or near school grounds, while on their way to or from school or during school activities.
Principal Mort Geivett told the board that based on that interpretation, he "had no choice" but to expel Tudesko. Tudesko's attorneys, C.K. "Chuck" Michel and Hillary Green, argued the school was not mandated to expel Tudesko because he did not take a gun onto school property.
"He was parked on a public street," Michel said, pointing out that the education code specifically states that mandatory expulsion is required for possessing guns "at school."
He interpreted that to mean on school property.
"Expulsion is mandatory only when an act is at school or school activity off school grounds," he said. "When the dogs alerted to the truck, it was not on private property."
A sign warning that no firearms and no alcohol are permitted on campus is "inside the gate," Michel noted, explaining no such signs are posted along the street next to the school.
He further argued that Tudesko was "not in possession" of a gun at school or during a school activity, since, when the dogs were alerted to his truck, he was sitting in class and did not have physical possession or immediate control of a gun.
Darlington told the board that to keep students safe, a school's jurisdiction extends beyond school property. One question the county board has to answer, he told them, is, "how far does the arm reach?"
A reasonable approach should have been used in deciding what disciplinary action, if any, to take, Michel said, explaining that Tudesko had been duck hunting before school is common practice in the community and that Tudesko did not present a threat.
Darlington said other factors entered into the Willows school board's decision to uphold the expulsion. Tudesko has a history of discipline issues at the school.
Tudesko admits to using foul language, calling teachers names, fighting and being disruptive in class. He has received 24 referrals for his behavior.
The school district contended that previous disciplinary measures — detention, Saturday school and even two suspensions — have not changed Tudesko's behavior.
Michel argued that none of the previous referrals related to Tudesko possessing a gun and, therefore, the application of that code does not apply. Darlington disagreed.
Green also argued that students did not get a "fair and proper notice of where the school is and where it isn't," so Tudesko could not have known what he was doing was wrong.
Geivett said his primary concern is school safety, referring to the 340 school-related shootings in the United States since 1994.
"What if someone else took the guns out his truck and used them against someone?" he asked.
"We have a safe campus," Geivett emphasized. "(But) I'm not going to bury my head in the sand and pretend that it will never happen here."