Montreal

Quebec honour roll student fights expulsion for bringing pocket knife to school

A Quebec honour roll student and his farming family say the teen’s expulsion from Heritage Regional High School for having a pocket knife in his bag is unreasonable, and they want changes to the Riverside School Board’s policy.

Riverside School Board refuses to reverse decision, while family argues tool commonplace on farm

Shawn Soucy was expelled in the middle of his final year at Heritage Regional High School in St. Hubert, on Montreal's South Shore, after the pocket knife was found in his backpack. 1:00

A 16-year-old Quebec honour roll student and his family are fighting his expulsion from school after Shawn Soucy accidentally left a pocket knife in his backpack following a morning of chores at the family farm.

The family is lobbying for changes to the Riverside School Board's safe schools policy, which the Soucys call "unreasonable."

Soucy was expelled in the middle of his final year at Heritage Regional High School in St. Hubert, on Montreal's South Shore, after the pocket knife was found in his backpack.

"It slipped my mind completely that it was in my bag," Soucy told CBC News, adding he likely put it there after completing his chores on his farm in Saint-Rémi.

Soucy said even after explaining why the knife would have been in his bag at the initial hearing and during a subsequent review process, the school board is sticking to its initial decision.
The pocket knife that 16-year-old Shawn Soucy uses for farm chores was found in his school bag. He says he forgot to take it out.

"It's really, really frustrating," Soucy said.

He said he would have gladly served out a suspension, but doesn't see how his situation warrants an expulsion.

"I've never been in trouble – ever. I've never had a detention in the school in five years."

Soucy and his mother were also barred from going on a long-planned student trip to Europe last month, losing $1,400 in cancellation fees.

Zero tolerance policy questioned

Soucy and his family are batting the board's safe schools policy, saying it doesn't take reason into account.

"They've handled it down to the book, but the problem is the book is flawed," Soucy said. 
The director general of the Riverside School Board, Sylvain Racette, said an exception couldn't be made for Soucy because it would be a breach of the board's safe schools policy. (CBC)

Riverside School Board' director general Sylvain Racette wouldn't speak about the particulars of this case, but he defended the policy.

"It's a policy that is strong, but the benefit of it outweighs the difficulties of application," he told CBC News.

"It's not easy when the policy is applied to you, but we truly believe we're enforcing it because it's making our schools safer," Racette said.

He added that there is an appeals process for families who are not satisfied with the disciplinary measure — a process that Soucy followed, to no avail.

Soucy has been allowed to take individual lessons with a tutor two days a week, in an annex of the school so that he's able to prepare for his pending Education Ministry exams, and the board calls that a compromise. However, he has been barred from interacting with his friends while on the premises.

'A good policy has leeway'

Shawn's mother, Treasa Kenny, has written letters to Quebec's education minister to appeal for reason in her son's case, even though he's now just one month from graduation.

When you have a perfect Grade A student ... and they make one little mistake, I don't think that's a time you end up throwing the book at him,'- Former Riverside School Board chairman Fernand Blais

"They need to look at this policy. It doesn't make sense," she said, adding that Shawn has received plenty of support from fellow students and teachers.

"I've got teachers saying this is insane, I've got principals saying, 'Are you kidding me?'" she said, adding that "a good policy has leeway."

Education Ministry spokesman Bryan Saint-Louis said codes of conduct, including disciplinary measures, are left up to the discretion of each school board, and it would be unusual for the ministry to intervene.

Soucy has more time for farm chores since he was expelled from school in his graduating year. He now gets tutored in a school annex twice a week. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

Former Riverside School Board chairman Fernand Blais has always had issues with the policy, because he says it doesn't allow for the board to exercise discretion depending on the circumstances of an incident.

"When you have a perfect Grade A student who's done everything that they're supposed to and do it right, and they make one little mistake, I don't think that's a time you end up throwing the book at him," Blais said.

Blais also pointed out that in English-language school boards, there's an added complication when it comes to expulsion because the schools are further apart, often with no bus routes that expelled students can take to their new school.

One last hope

Soucy said he still hopes he'll be able to go back to school for the last month, but knows that's unlikely.

He will be able to graduate with his class, go to prom, and he's already been conditionally accepted to Dawson College for the fall.

But mostly, he's left with a bad taste in his mouth.

"They've made my whole year miserable," Soucy said. "When I look back on high school, this is what I'm going to remember. I'm not going to remember the fun times."

About the Author

Salimah Shivji

Journalist

Salimah Shivji is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau.

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