Expulsion for guns in truck overturned by education board Published Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 In the end, the case of a Willows teenager expelled for having hunting guns in his pickup truck parked next to campus didn't focus on gun rights. It became a question of whether the authority of school officials to enforce the state's Education Code extended to the school fence or a sidewalk's width beyond it. On Friday, members of the Glenn County Board of Education drew the line at the gates of Willows High School. They ruled that officials in the Willows Unified School District had exceeded their authority when they expelled Gary Tudesko a 17-year-old with a history of disciplinary problems for leaving two shotguns and ammunition in his truck parked a few feet from the school's tennis courts on a public street. "The district governing board acted in excess of its jurisdiction to expel the Pupil," the board wrote in its decision. The elected board members said they would not comment on their decision because disciplinary proceedings are normally confidential.The board's hearing Tuesday, at which members heard legal arguments, was open to the public at Tudesko's parents' request. On the morning of Oct. 26, Tudeskoand a friend went waterfowl hunting. Tudesko brought the guns to school so he wouldn't be late. He said he knew he couldn't bring them on campus but thought it was OK to park on a public street. Later that morning, a gunsniffing dog discovered the weapons as private security guards searched the campus perimeter. The guns were in the back seat of the truck, which was separated from campus only by an oleander hedge and the sidewalk. In overturning the teen's expulsion, county Board of Education members cited a state statute that requires a principal to recommend expulsion if a student possesses firearms "at school." The board found Tudesko had not possessed the shotguns "on school grounds." They also said Tudesko did not receive a fair expulsion hearing in November because he wasn't given adequate notice that two dozen prior disciplinary incidents would be presented as evidence against him, and he didn't have a chance to respond. According to a brief filed by the school district's lawyer, those charges included calling a teacher's assistant a "stupid Mexican," disrupting a showing of "To Kill a Mockingbird" by repeatedly saying the "N" word, which Tudesko denied, and writing on a final exam that his math teacher was a "b ." After board President Judy Holzapfel read the unanimous decision aloud Friday, supporters cheered and applauded. Tudesko, his mother, Susan Parisio, and their lawyers smiled and hugged. At a news conference afterward, Parisio said, "Gary didn't do anything wrong" when he left the guns in his truck. The prior incidents were "blown out of proportion," she said. Tudesko said he felt his prior disciplinary troubles had been raised to justify his expulsion. "I think that's really the only thing they had on me. They couldn't get me for the guns," he said. "I won," he added. The high school junior, who has been home schooled since he was expelled, said he is excited to return to school as soon as possible. He vowed to improve his failing grades in math, English and history and avoid further trouble. "I need to grow up and take advantage of school," he said. Willows school officials exited the county education offices demoralized. Principal Mort Geivett said he believes he did the right thing by recommending expulsion. Having guns so close to campus in the wake of school shootings around the country raised grave safety concerns, he said. "I'm disappointed," he said. "I don't think it's a good call for kids in this community." Steve Olmos, superintendent of the Willows Unified School District, said he believes the board's decision was based on politics in the conservative, rural county. He said he will meet with the board of the Willows school district to discuss legal options.Thecash-strapped district cannot easily afford to take the case to court, he said, and might seek help from teachers unions. It is vital, he said, to determine whether school officials can enforce student conduct in the area immediately surrounding campuses. Chuck Michel, a prominent gun-rights lawyer who handled Tudesko's case, agreed that the phrase "at school" in the Education Code needs to be better defined. Sections of the code dealing with expulsion, firearms and other disciplinary matters are a confusing tangle of passages tacked on over the years, and the courts have offered little guidance, he said. He urged lawmakers to draft legislation to clean up the Education Code and to make it clear where and under what circumstances it applies. "I hope this case provides the basis to go to Sacramento and get the law clarified," Michel said, "so you don't have any more Gary Tudeskos." © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.