"Duck hunting is what you do here"
The town of Willows (population 6,000) is located on the I-5 corridor in southeastern Glenn County, roughly 90 miles north of Sacramento, on the west bank of the Sacramento River. This part of the Sacramento Valley is blanketed by tens of thousands of square acres of cultivated rice, wheat, hay and corn, which provides wintering habitat to more than 40 percent of the ducks and geese in the Pacific Flyway.
Downtown Willows is flanked 6 miles to the south and east by the massive Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, which sprawls over 35,000 acres to include the Sacramento, Delevan, Colusa, Sutter and Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuges, and the Butte Sink, North Central Valley and Willow Creek-Lurline Wildlife Management Areas.
An estimated 3 million ducks and 1 million geese filter through the area every season. The nickname for the Willows High's sports team is "Honkers," and a drawing of a goose in flight emblazons everything from the schools official Web site to stationary used for the school newsletter.
Willows is, for lack of a more accurate term, the waterfowl-hunting capitol of California.
"Duck hunting is just what you do here," Tudesko says. "This is duck country. Just about every guy in school is a duck hunter."
Which would explain the growing sense of outrage within the Sacramento Valley hunting community when the school district began to push for Tudesko's automatic expulsion. The youth's name began to appear on internet hunting forums across the country, and local hunters rallied to his defense while questioning the validity of nearly everything that happened on Oct. 26.
"I understand that there are laws to protect kids, but what that principal did was beyond being careful," says Greg Galli, owner of River Valley Outfitters in nearby Gridley. "All that kid did was go out, try to shoot some ducks and then hurry to get to school.
"You talk to (hunters) around here and they start to ask questions: was he targeted because he was a hunter? Did he have a duck sticker on his truck that identified him as a hunter? It all seems pretty suspicious to me."
Geivett, who's a fisherman, says that no such anti-hunting sentiment influenced either the search or the expulsion hearing.
"I have nothing against hunters I love I it when kids tell me about their hunting and fishing trips," he says. "I never thought I'd have to apologize for not being a hunter, but I should point out that members of the (Willows Unified) board are hunters."
The school extended Tudesko's original five-day suspension an additional 19 days to Nov. 26, the date of a special public hearing before the Willows Unified School District (WUSD) board of trustees. Parisio had been informed of the expulsion order on Oct. 28, when WUSD superintendent Steve Olmos indicated that the district felt strongly that Tudesko's transgression required him to be removed from school for the remainder of his junior year.
"He said that expulsion was mandatory, and that weapons don't belong at school," Parisio says. "They were absolutely not going to allow Gary back in school."
"Possession, school grounds" questioned
During the 105-minute expulsion hearing, Principal Geivett cited Code of Education sections 48900(b) possession of firearms on school grounds and 48915(c) California's "zero tolerance policy" which recommends automatic expulsion if a student is a "continuing danger" and defined Tudesko's off-campus parking spot as being under his discretionary jurisdiction, because it was within a 1,000-foot buffer as defined by state and federal "Gun-Free School Zone" laws.
"There's not a grey area to me when I'm talking about the safety of the kids and staff," Geivett says. "To me, you cannot possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of school premises. The spot where Gary parked his truck is less then 20 feet away from our tennis courts. My (level of concern) is not the same if you have a shotgun 1,000 feet away from me as it is with a shotgun as close as 15 to 20 feet.
"My contention is that I don't want to play with the safety of staff and students with a tape measure. That street is kind of a transit point for kids who go from class to class. They walk right down that sidewalk on the way to P.E. You can touch those vehicles as you go class to class. I cannot have those weapons that close to campus."
At the heart of these citations are the legal definitions of "possession" and "on school grounds," neither of which Michel insists were met, and what he considers the mixing of incongruous elements of Education and Penal codes.
"The legislative intent of the word 'possession' is that you have the gun, you can control it, it's within your immediate control, and that's certainly not what the situation was here," Michel says. "(Tudesko) never actually possessed the gun or had it in his hands while he was at school.
"And 'school grounds' means school property. It's where the school property line ends. If you're not on school property, you're either on public property which is exactly what the street Gary parked on is or you're on private property, which is what's right next to that street. That's absolutely not the school's jurisdiction."
Michel says that Geivett tried to circumnavigate the definition of those terms by expressing the opinion that the term "on school grounds" as defined in the Code of Education actually extended to areas "on or near school grounds." He then went on to invoke language from both state and federal "Gun-Free School Zone" laws, stating that school grounds actually extend 1,000 feet beyond school property to include public property located adjacent to the school.
That, according to Michel, was an erroneous conflation of Education Code language, which provides some limited jurisdiction to school officials, and "Gun-Free" criminal/penal-code language, which, according to Michel, was completely out of context at the expulsion hearing because Tudesko had never been charged with a criminal offense, and the state's gun-free laws had no bearing on the issue at hand.
"There were semantics being played that just defy logic," Michel says. "Really, though, it's pretty simple: School administrators have some limited jurisdiction under the Education Code to cover things happening at school and at school-sanctioned events like field trips, but the laws that the principal was trying to use in reference to a 1,000-foot gun-free zone have nothing to do with the Education Code."
Geivett maintains his opinion that the presence of Tudesko's unloaded shotguns inside his truck parked on Willow Street required that he be referred for expulsion, and, according to Michel's brief, Geivett repeatedly informed the four-member board that they, too, were compelled to automatically expel Tudesko.
"It's my understanding (that) I'm required to refer for expulsion because of the guns," Geivett says. "There was somebody suspended from school for 5 days that same day because he had shells and a knife in his truck. The dog alerted on three different vehicles: one had beer cans set to be recycled in the back of the truck, another (alert) was because of gunpowder.
"This kid indeed had shells in the truck - he drove his dad's truck that day, and his dad confirmed that they had just gone hunting recently — (but) he got suspended for 5 days. Gary had the knife and shells just like the other kid, but when there are shotguns or rifles, now we're talking about stepping over the lines and into 'shall refer' (for expulsion)."
Green and Michel oppose that opinion.
"This is incorrect as a matter of law and in fact was one of the main problems from the expulsion hearing," Green says. "That
code section calls for a mandatory expulsion RECOMMENDATION, not an 'automatic expulsion' as Geivett wrongly instructed the District."