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Is a box cutter a weapon, Minnesota school asks after no-trespassing order

A no-trespassing order issued against a Menahga, Minn., resident has created a debate as to what constitutes a weapon. The Menahga School district issued the order against Jon Kangas for carrying a folding utility knife in his pocket into a Dec. ...

A no-trespassing order issued against a Menahga, Minn., resident has created a debate as to what constitutes a weapon.  

The Menahga School district issued the order against Jon Kangas for carrying a folding utility knife in his pocket into a Dec. 10 school board committee meeting.  

School board member Al Peterson sought “clarity” on the issue at Monday night’s school board meeting and “to reassure people we’re consistent with our weapons policy.”  

“He’s been carrying it for years. I’ve known it. I think we’ve all seen it dozens of times and that’s putting it lightly,” Peterson said.  

Peterson commented he didn’t believe Kangas had been recently told the knife would qualify as a weapon and that it wasn’t allowed into the school. He added that only the pocket clip on the knife was visible. Kangas made no threats and faces no criminal charges regarding the matter.  

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Current Menahga School District policy states “no student or nonstudent, including adults and visitors, shall possess, use or distribute a weapon when in a school location.”   The policy defines a weapon as “any object, device or instrument designed as a weapon or through its use is capable of threatening or producing bodily harm,” including “all knives, blades.”  

Peterson asked the board “to take a close look at whether this specifically was a good example of applying our policy.”  He presented a similar utility knife/box cutter to show to the board.  “Clearly, what most would describe as a tool,” Peterson said.  

Peterson said he’s received numerous calls from Menahga residents about the incident.  

Board member Brad Goehrig said this wasn’t the first time Kangas was caught. Two years ago, during a mediation session, a state mediator confronted Kangas about the knife and told him, “That is a weapon. You need to take that to your car,” recalled Goehrig. “Now that’s one time.”  

“Wait a second. Do you think he could tell it was a weapon by looking at that clip?” asked Peterson.  

The district spends a lot of money on safety, Goehrig replied, noting that Peterson was a big proponent of installing double entrance doors.  

Pointing to the knife in Peterson’s hands, Goehrig said, “You are allowed to carry that right now. If you weren’t, I would turn you in for it. You can carry it as a law enforcement agent.”  

“I would say anybody could carry this,” Peterson said.  

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“Oh, no. No way,” Goehrig said. “I can’t believe you’d even say that, Al.”  

“We expel kids because of this,” said board chairperson Ernest Huhta Jr.  “I’m sorry, we cannot have a double standard for parents and apply a different standard for students.”  

Public perception is that Kangas is being punished for his outspoken disagreement with the board, Peterson said.  

“It’s an awful, bad coincidence that one of the more vocal people that is willing to share his opinion both here and in the newspaper is the only citizen we can probably think of that’s been given this type of treatment, yet how many of these types of things have come in and out of the school?” asked Peterson.  

“I disagree with you totally on this,” Goehrig said. “You’ve got to treat everybody the same.”  

“What about a screwdriver?” asked Peterson. “There’s more to this story, but the main thing is this a weapon or a tool?”  

“Obviously we need to have a policy meeting in which we go through and look at these issues,” Huhta said.  

School board member Durwin Tomperi said school policy, which is based on Minnesota School Board Association language, forbids all knives and blades. A box cutter is a blade.  

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Peterson argued a box cutter isn’t a weapon until it’s used to threaten someone.  

“The people who took down two planes and crashed them into towers used this tool,” Goehrig said.  

Interim Superintendent Allen Stoeckman expressed concern about such a public discussion. Students would be dealt with privately, he said.  

“This was intended to be a private matter,” Stoeckman said.  

It’s a public issue, said Peterson. “It’s a gray area at the very best and he [Kangas] got the most severe punishment penalty possible.”  

Peterson said he’d seen the no-trespassing order. Kangas can’t come within 300 feet of any school property, including bus stops, until further notice, he said. The order has no end date.  

School board member Andrea Haverinen said she also received phone calls from the public asking for the school board’s position.  

Peterson made a motion to immediately overturn the no-trespassing order against Kangas.  

“I don’t know all the facts,” Tomperi said.

“I don’t either,” Huhta said.  

Tomperi noted this isn’t the first time the school has issued a no-trespassing order.  The motion failed, 2-4, with Haverinen and Peterson voting in favor of overturning the order.

Hasbargen, Tomperi, Goehrig and Huhta voted against it.

 School board member Curtis Hasbargen said a box cutter can be interpreted as a weapon. He suggested the school district ask for legal advice on the weapons policy and the definition of a weapon.  

In a written statement Tuesday, Stoeckman wrote, “As an administrator, I take very seriously the safety of students and the enforcement of state-mandated school policies. Events that occurred over the past two weeks are unfolding into a public debate.

"The No Trespass Notice that was served was intended to be a private matter due to the conduct of a visitor at school and the visitor’s defiance of school policy, stating ‘policies only apply to students.’ It’s unfortunate that someone who is aware of state-mandated school policy does not wish to follow school policy, especially after a prior warning was given from a state employee to the individual about carrying a knife on school property.”

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