Benjamin A. Ratner, who was suspended from Blue Ridge Middle School in October for having a knife in his locker, is failing Algebra and falling behind in other classes, his mother said this week.
Ben took the knife away from a classmate who threatened to commit suicide and stored it in his locker for safekeeping. Loudoun County school policy required him to turn over the kitchen paring knife immediately to administrators, and the suspension was based on his failure to do so.
His mother, Beth Haney, said school officials have not lived up to their obligation since then to provide timely assignments or maintain their interest in his studies. "They've been doing a lot of lip service," she said. "It's been very difficult."
Principal Joseph L. Mauck Jr. said that he not aware of problems and that he has seen Haney at school each day, bringing back completed assignments and picking up new ones. "I saw her this morning, and she didn't say anything about it," he said Tuesday.
Mauck said he has spoken to all of Ben's teachers and urged them to make regular contact with Ben and his mother.
Haney, who said she has heard from four of his seven teachers, said Ben received a letter last week notifying him that he was failing Algebra. She said the school arranged for a student tutor who began working with Ben this week.
But Haney said she has been reticent about other complaints because she doesn't want Ben, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, to be treated unfairly when he returns to school in January. She said he is teaching himself Spanish and tapes himself playing guitar to satisfy his music requirement.
Mauck and Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III recommended that Ben be suspended until Jan. 26 for violating the school's weapon policy. A School Board committee upheld the punishment in early December. Committee members said they were certain that school officials would supply Ben with class work and homework assignments.
"The student is going to receive the academic assistance that he needs," board member Edward J. Kiley (Mercer) said at the December hearing.
The case has outraged some community residents, who say the eighth-grader is being punished unfairly for trying to help a troubled friend. Ben, 13, said he intended to take the knife home to his mother so she could call his friend's parents.
The case also has caught the attention of national media outlets. Ben and his mother appeared on "Dateline NBC" on Friday, she said, and a nationally syndicated newspaper column on the topic has been published. Mauck joined Ben and Haney on a talk-radio program airing in Spokane, Wash.
Haney said Ben's spirits have risen since the case went public, generating messages of support from well-wishers. Immediately after he was banned from school, the boy closed himself off, his mother said.
"He would not leave the house," Haney said. "He wouldn't even go to the grocery store with me."
Haney said she is considering appealing the School Board decision in court because she fears that the suspension will hurt Ben later on in life, when he applies to college.
"Ben's record has to be expunged," she said.
Lawyers at the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group in Charlottesville, represented Ben for free at the School Board hearing. Haney said they have not decided whether they will represent him again.