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BOTD 11-12-2015 Corbin's Comb - A Kat Production

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Bransom Postmaster
Corbin’s Comb
A Kat Production

You are the vice principal in charge of 8th graders at Harry S Truman Middle School. Your school district has a broad policy that prohibits students from bringing weapons to school, as well as items that “can reasonably construed as weapons.”

The school does not exercise a zero tolerance policy, which gives you, as an administrator, some leeway in considering context and circumstances. For instance, you declined to take action against a student who brought a flatware knife to school to spread peanut butter on crackers at lunch.

Today you have 14-year-old Corbin in your office. Corbin brought his switchblade comb to school. The comb looks very much like a switchblade and operates like one, though, of course, it has no blade. The teacher who brought Corbin to the office tells you that she saw Corbin brandishing the comb at another student and threatening to cut him. She took the matter very seriously until Corbin demonstrated the knife was, in fact, a comb.

Corbin 14
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After interviewing Corbin, you learn these facts: 1) he was not reacting to bullying from the other student; 2) he tells you the other student “pissed [him] off by sitting in the seat where [he] always sit[s] in the cafeteria; 3) he meant the threat as a joke and didn’t expect the other kid (or a teacher) to take it seriously.

You have the discretion to handle this matter as you see fit. You are allowed to use corporal punishment (paddle, up to six swats); suspension (up to ten days); in-school suspension (up to six weeks); after school detention; assignment to an alternative campus (up to 12 weeks); expulsion (with student suspended pending an automatic hearing before the school board).

Can you dig it?


Well, the comb can reasonably be mistaken for a weapon. However, I believe this is a case of bad judgment rather than bad intention, and I'm not going to make a big deal out of it. I'll explain to Corbin why bringing something that looks like a weapon to school is a bad idea, and he'll have to take a note home explaining what happened and bring it back signed. I'll also remind him that the cafeteria seats are not his property, and he has no exclusive right to a particular one. I'll confiscate the comb and will only relinquish it to one of his parents. Other than that, I will take no further disciplinary action.


A closed knife is not really a weapon, it has to be opened for ANY use. In the present case when the comb is opened it is revealed to be a comb!

A comb is not a weapon so no punishment!

And any pencil is a better weapon then a comb, you can stab someone fatally with a pencil, especially with a little training or practice! But we do NOT ban pencils, in fact we require students to bring at least one!



What's next? Suspensions of 5 year olds for pointing their index finger and saying: "bang, bang"? Oh wait. We've already done that.

No punishment. We will, however, have a talk, pointing out that the police, you know, the ones we were told were our friends, have shot and killed people, including kids, for having dangerous weapons like switchblade combs and that their investigative boards have cleared them of wrongdoing for doing so. Best to leave it home.

I don't know how we got to this point, but pretty clearly, someone took a major wrong turn and is too stupid or stubborn or both to turn back.

David M. Katz

I think Daniel's response is sensible and reasonable and properly addresses the situation.

Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.

John Boy

ditto Katz

Y Lee Coyote

This brought to mind Monty Python's "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" which featured horrible instruments of torture such as the comfy chair and the rack (for dish drying).  All sort of things can be re-purposed!  It is a comb even though a teacher thought otherwise.  A comb is reasonable item and not easily made into a weapon.  Many items, as has been mentioned, can be used as weapons and are required such as pointy pens and pencils as daggers, laptop computer can be as effective as bricks to clobber someone, a banana peal as a slippery tripping hazard and a ruler as chopping blade to mention just a few.  And a clock is clock and not a bomb.  On the other hand, a lot of the stuff in the gym such as the weights and bars and bats and paddles are really weapons.  But hey, they're OK because they weren't brought in by students but staff.

Possibly the way the comb as brandished might be improper but so is a lot of activity in the school.


Pi Beta

I think Daniel has it about right, though before confiscating it, I'll insist he uses ithe comb for its real purpose!


Unless the scenario left out the fact that the boy who was threatened was a friend of Corbin's, then I have more trouble with this than most people seem to have had.

It doesn't matter that this is really a comb. Corbin used something that appeared to a switchblade knife and threatened to cut the other student with it. The way the scenario reads, it wasn't until after the teacher confronted him that Corbin demonstrated it wasn't a weapon. To me, that means that the student threatened had reason to believe he was really in danger.

Now, I don't see any reason to involve the police, and I don't want to cause Corbin any serious problems over this. I am going to take the comb, but I will return it after school, with the caveat that it never return. However, after explaining my problems with his behavior, Corbin will be getting two swats, and will be making an official apology.

"In the end, it's just a story. But if you ask me, it's all true."


Brandishing a comb as a weapon may have been a joke but clearly Corbins first reaction to seeing another student occupying 'his seat' as he saw it, wrongly, was one of aggression and he will be getting two swats for that. He does not own a seat and his fellow students have a right not to be intimidated. No one could have known what Corbin might pull from his pocket. Because the comb might be misconstrued by its appearance Corbin will be told not to bring it back and his parents will be told that in the notification about the paddling

I wrote the top part of this without reading the rest of the comments. I think a 14 year old who's initial approach is aggressive mightily different and potentially more troublesome than a 6 year old pointing two fingers at a classmate and saying bang. Corbin may have THOUGHT he was joking but the other student may have felt it was more like intimidation especially if he felt he needed to shift from a seat he had every right to occupy. The key word in the scenario was context so interesting to see how close to I got to Jack on this one

Last edited by squarecutter on Thu Nov 12, 2015 5:08 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : 2nd paragraph)


One has to presume that the threatened kid was not one of Corbin's friends as if he was he would have known about the comb.

It is thus hard to see that his reaction was intended as the joke he states it to be. I believe it was intended to scare the other boy.

Consequently I think Daniel's response I too sympathetic and that the point needs to be made more emphatically to Corbin that his reaction was wrong. On that basis I end up in Jack's camp.


.................. 3) he meant the threat as a joke and didn’t expect the other kid (or a teacher) to take it seriously.

This is Corbin's defence and there is no evidence to the contrary.

The teachers action was OTT ---- but in a society that strips boy scouts of their jack knives, outlaws toy guns (and even penalises kids for saying bang bang) yet still legalises possession of the real thing ----- it is only to be expected.

Corbin will get a lecture on the crass stupidity of his reaction to an annoyance in the present scared rabbit society he lives in; but no punishment, and he can keep his comb.


Editor Extraordinaire
I'm firmly in Jack's camp on this one. If Corbin had only brought the comb to school and shown it to other kids, a talking to would have been sufficient -- along with an admonition that he shouldn't bring it back to school and can only collect it at the end of the day. However, he used the comb to menace another kid. I draw an analogy between what Corbin did and an adult who uses a realistic toy gun to commit robbery. I'm pretty sure that the fact the person used a toy gun is not much defense against a charge of armed robbery -- and certainly not robbery.  Two swats should make clear to Corbin that threatening fellow students is inappropriate, with or without an actual weapon.

I find the comparison to Ahmed, the boy who brought his homemade clock to school, interesting. In that case, the perception the clock looked like a bomb was very subjective and in opposition to Ahmed's repeated insistence that it was only a clock. I believe Ahmed to have been the victim of xenophobia, Islamophobia and several types of institutional stupidity. If, however, he had told people he had a bomb, he would have deserved his suspension and perhaps arrest.



I guess a lot depends on what happened in the incident at the cafeteria. I thought it was a half joking affair misinterpreted by the teacher, but if it was more serious that would change things.


Editor Extraordinaire
db105 wrote:I guess a lot depends on what happened in the incident at the cafeteria. I thought it was a half joking affair misinterpreted by the teacher, but if it was more serious that would change things.

I could have made the scenario a bit more specific, though it's interesting to see how people interpret it when there's ambiguity. I see three ways to interpret it:

1) Corbin is being honest, the teacher misinterpreted the situation, and the other boy was most likely a friend of his;

2) Corbin is being honest, but the other boy was not a friend and took his threat seriously, making the teacher's reaction less in error;

3) Corbin is being dishonest, as he meant to scare the other boy into giving up the seat; perhaps he is disingenuous enough to think that not having an actual switchblade will make his joke excuse believable.

Any of the three are defensible, though my own reply indicates the interpretation I expected.

Both as a teacher and a student, I preferred essay questions to "objective" questions, as there was no right or wrong answer -- only well or poorly argued answers. I like BOTD for the same reason, though some of us can get pretty passionate about defending our positions.



Editor Extraordinaire
Kat wrote:After interviewing Corbin, you learn these facts:  3) he meant the threat as a joke and didn’t expect the other kid (or a teacher) to take it seriously.

I can see from the way I wrote that, Corbin's explanation is a "fact". Embarassed


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