Third-grader’s suspension over fortune cookie crumbles

Friday, July 2, 1999

The mother of a Hudson, Ohio, third-grader is relieved that her son's
suspension over a fortune cookie has been dropped, but she is disappointed that
school officials “never really said they were wrong.”

Nine-year-old Karl Bauman was suspended in May from McDowell Elementary
School because of an allegedly threatening fortune he wrote as part of a class
project. Students wrote messages to be included as fortunes in fortune

Karl wrote the message “you will die with honor.”

Sheryl Sheatzley, spokeswoman for Hudson Local Schools, said that
Karl was suspended for his actions in the classroom. Refusing to comment
further, Sheatzley faxed a statement on the suspension to the First Amendment Center from the school district.

In mid-June school administrators decided to retract the suspension from
Karl's school records due to a technicality, according to the district's

The district did not notify Karl in writing of its intent to suspend him, but
instead verbally informed him of the action. His parents were given written
notification of the suspension. According to school policy Karl should also have
received written notice of the suspension.

Raymond Vasvari, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio legal director, said
the administrators “decided to revoke what was called a bad decision.” He said
that the situation was “no doubt the result of an ill-thought-out decision.”

Vasvari said that he
knows of about 60 cases similar to Karl's in which, in the wake of the
Littleton, Colo., tragedy, teachers have overreacted to perceived threats. But
he says that of all of the cases he has reviewed, Karl's is the most extreme

Jean Bauman, Karl's mother, says she is disappointed with the school
officials. But she said, “I feel better now that it is off of his record.”

Bauman said that if she were put in the teacher's position, she would have
explained to the children that the fortune could have several meanings. “That
phrase can mean so many things,” she said.