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A tussle over a note in class, then handcuffs

Kyle Thompson has done his best to move forward from that day last March.

A sophomore at a small private Detroit high school, his most recent report card is straight A's. He is making new friends.

But he said he still can't shake the sound of one particular word: criminal.

He was in the last few minutes of freshman science class at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, in suburban Detroit, when a friend got hold of a whimsical “hit list” from his school folder. The list contained nicknames he had coined for people he wanted to tackle on the football field. His teacher took it from him. He tried to take it back. He recalls that everyone, including the teacher, was laughing as they tugged back and forth on the paper.

At that point, accounts differ. His teacher reported she was forced to the ground and fearful for her safety. Thompson said he never shoved her down, which his mother and lawyer said classmates confirmed.

“She yelled, ‘Let go,’” Thompson recalled. “I let go.”

Not long after, Thompson was taken from school in handcuffs and charged with assault. Under state law, he was expelled for at least 180 days. “Going to criminal court, hearing the word criminal just stands out,” he said.

And thus began a nightmare for his mother, Farmington Hills resident Lisa Thompson, 45. “It affected all of us,” she said. “My hair fell out. I gained weight. It affected other people in the immediate family.”

School officials indicated they had no choice because of provisions of Michigan's zero-tolerance law. It mandates an expulsion of at least 180 days for any student who assaults a school employee.

Superintendent Susan Zurvalec said she could not comment on the specific incident or student involved. But she issued a statement that expressed frustration with the zero-tolerance law.

The district, Zurvalec wrote, strives “to consider each student and any incident separately and individually.”

She added, “The zero-tolerance law passed by our legislature takes that ability away from us and requires all assaults to be treated the same. It is up to state policy makers to revise these zero-tolerance laws...”

Three months after the incident, Thompson was ordered placed under house arrest. He was allowed to leave home only to attend church and see a private tutor.

“I understand the process,” his mother recalled. “But it took so long to get any kind of resolution to it. He became really depressed. He relived the incident over and over and over. He hated talking about it.”

Denied admission to other schools, Thompson took online classes but struggled.

This past October, Thompson, 15, was admitted to Detroit Christian High School. His first-quarter report card shows A's in English, religion, geometry and chemistry.

His mother said she was determined to fight the criminal charges in Oakland County court. A pharmaceutical sales representative, she had the means to hire a private attorney. She held out for a jury trial.

In early December, on the eve of jury selection, the prosecution offered to wipe the charges from his record in exchange for a plea of no contest. Her son would have no criminal record under the terms of the deal. The family accepted the offer.

Kyle Thompson said he hopes that students and teachers alike learn from his experience, “just to know that one mistake can ruin your life and to think before you act.”

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