The Virginia Beach School Board has decided to drop disciplinary action against a 16-year-old high school junior whose imaginative essay for a required state achievement test in March had been labeled a bomb threat.
The board heard public testimony for nearly two hours -- including an apologetic statement from the student -- before voting 7 to 3 Tuesday to return Christopher Bullock to his classes at Tallwood High School and to drop a requirement that he receive weekly psychological counseling.
In his essay, written in the manner of his literary idol Stephen King, Bullock imagined a student announcing a special gift for his school: a nuclear bomb strapped to his chest that he detonates at the end of his speech.
The essay was noticed by readers for the Texas company that grades Virginia's Standards of Learning tests and sent back to the school district with a note calling it a "personal situation that might warrant attention."
A disciplinary panel of Virginia Beach school officials then suspended Bullock for the rest of the school year and recommended that he be allowed to return to Tallwood High next year on the condition that he go to weekly counseling sessions. He has been out of school since May 14.
Donald F. Bennis, an attorney on the School Board, said he voted to clear Bullock because "we could not find any evidence of animosity toward teachers or other students. He seemed to be a fairly well-adjusted young man."
Jane Brooks, one of the three board members who dissented, said she agreed with most of the majority decision but would have preferred some psychological counseling for Bullock's sake.
Brooks, who was on the original disciplinary panel, said her view of the case changed significantly after prosecutors dropped criminal charges and the school principal said he did not consider Bullock a threat.
Bullock told the board he was aware of the fears generated by the student shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado a few weeks after he wrote his essay. He said he told his mother at the time of the shootings that his essay might be misinterpreted and that he would have chosen another topic if he had written it after the Columbine incident.
Bullock said recent poor grades and minor disciplinary problems, which officials had mentioned in announcing the punishment, were the result of too much attention to girls and the track team. He said he planned to do better.