A Whittell High School senior, expelled for one year for holding a knife during class, will receive his diploma but has been banished from June 18 graduation ceremonies.
Troy Walters' troubles began April 3 when a teacher spotted him holding a friend's knife during a movie. He said he held the knife for three seconds.
"When we were watching the movie and taking notes," Walters said. "(My friend) said 'I have something to show you.' I reached my hand behind me ... the knife opened. At that time I saw it and so did the teacher."
Nevada's zero-tolerance policy requires punishment for students who bring or handle a weapon on campus.
Walters sued Douglas County School District for lack of due process. Judge David Gamble ruled in the school district's favor but acknowledged an expulsion hearing should have been handled better.
"When you have zero tolerance then you must afford better protection to the student, and better protection in this case would have been an encouragement to seek counsel rather than diminution of the need," Gamble said in his ruling.
"There would have been an encouragement to call witnesses, especially ones the district knew were present. There should be a going out of the way to provide the student completely, who is almost always befuddled by the circumstances, an opportunity ... to be heard. I am not confident that happened here."
In his decision, Gamble said the zero-tolerance rule was an "asinine reaction by the Legislature."
Richard Glasson, who represented Walters, said flaws also lie with the school board.
"There's a problem with the state because there's no flexibility, but there's a problem with the school district because they don't provide a fair hearing atmosphere for the students," Glasson said. "If (Walters) was provided a fair hearing, I have no doubt they would have reinstated him as a student."
School board member George Echan said the board doesn't deny the right to counsel or for the student to call witnesses. Echan was puzzled why it didn't happen in Walters' matter and also expressed frustration with the stringent weapon policy.
Superintendent John Soderman said the board received suggestions from Gamble on how to improve its hearings but didn't provide specifics.
"I wouldn't say they're earthshaking, but they're important and we intend to follow them," he said.
As for Walters, he plans to attend Devry University next fall. But during graduation, while his friends throw their red caps into the air, Walters said he'll probably be sitting home, hoping his incident will do some good.
"I don't benefit out of it but the people coming before the school board will benefit from it," he said.