COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Eleven-year-old Charlotte Kirk thought she was doing a good thing by helping her mom pack her lunch. The sixth-grader included a steak knife in her lunch box so she could cut up her chicken.

But after asking a teacher if she could use the knife, Charlotte ended up suspended from school, threatened with expulsion and arrested on a charge of of possessing a weapon on school grounds.

The school district decided Friday not to expel the honor student after she showed up at a hearing with her lawyer and a handful of supportive letters from her counselor and teachers. Charlotte can return to class Monday _ but will be on probation, and still faces a hearing in family court on the charge.

Charlotte said it was all a misunderstanding _ she packed the smooth-edged steak knife with her lunch on Oct. 18 because ``Mom was busy, and dad had gone to work.''

But after a friend in the cafeteria spotted the knife and suggested it might not be allowed, Charlotte went to higher authorities, and got a lecture from a teacher and a guidance counselor.

``I never took it out of the box,'' Charlotte said. She tried to eat her lunch, tearing the chicken with her fingers. ``But I didn't eat a lot,'' she said. ``I was too upset.''

That afternoon, as she and her father, Carl Kirk, were leaving Hopkins Middle School, a deputy sheriff came, put her in his cruiser and drove away _ not allowing her father to ride along.

Charlotte looked out the back window all the way to the sheriff's office, making sure her dad was still there.

District Superintendent Don Henderson said the school apparently followed policy.

``Principals have no prerogative,'' Henderson said. ``When a weapon is found, the police have to be called.''

Her lawyer, Ben Wofford, called the whole thing silly. ``Clearly, in Charlotte's environment, she doesn't think that a kitchen knife is a weapon.''