An 11-year-old boy from Virginia was suspended over a “marijuana” leaf that was found in his backpack. Last year, shortly after the semester began, the sixth grader allegedly brought some crumpled up pot leaves to school along with a lighter. He was issued a 364-day suspension and faced multiple charges in juvenile court. Today, after missing nearly six months of school, one other detail was released – they weren’t pot leaves at all.
Writes the Roanoke Times on March 15: “At first blush it sounds like an open-and-shut school disciplinary matter in a zero-tolerance age: Some schoolchildren claim another student bragged about having marijuana. They inform school administrators. An assistant principal finds a leaf and a lighter in the boy’s knapsack. The student is suspended for a year. A sheriff’s deputy files marijuana possession charges in juvenile court.”
After missing two-thirds of the school year, today, the boy finally was allowed to go back to school. Yet he was forced to enroll at a different school and he is still under juvenile probation. The boy, known only by the initials R.M.B., is the son of Bruce and Linda Bays of Bedford County, both of whom are schoolteachers themselves.
The Bays have said that their son was ignorant of the potentially serious consequences of bringing an illegal drug into school, and was innocently simply trying to impress his friends. However, the ordeal has taken a toll on the young man, who was formerly involved in the Bedford Middle School’s Gifted and Talented program.
Bruce and Linda say their boy now suffers from depression, panic attacks and fears authority figures. The parents filed a lawsuit this week in federal court – R.M.B. v. Bedford County Virginia School Board. The suit seeks unspecified damages and names both Bedford Middle School Assistant Principal Brian Wilson and school operations chief Frederick Mac Duis, and alleges that their son’s “due process rights under the U.S. Constitution” were violated by the unjust punishment without cause.
A lawyer representing the family, Melvin Williams, said: “Essentially they kicked him out of school for something they couldn’t prove he did.” Williams said the school resource officer, who is also a Bedford County Sheriff’s Office deputy, filed marijuana possession charges, knowing full well that initial field tests came back negative for marijuana. Essentially, it appears the boy just grabbed a few dried autumn leaves from his yard. (The boy now claims that he was given the fake leaves by an older child.)
“The field test came back not inconclusive, but negative,” Williams said. “Yet [the school resource officer] went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school…We intend to see what a jury would say about that.”
Linda Bays said she received a call on September 22 from Assistant Principal Wilson, telling her she needed to come to his office. She left her job at the Stewartsville Elementary School, called her husband, a retired teacher, and they met at the school.
Linda recounts the phone conversation with Principal Wilson: “He told me [our son] had been seen in the bathroom with a marijuana leaf and lighter and that I needed to come to the school quickly.”
Once they were there, Linda said Wilson “had us sit down and he proceeded to tell us [our son] had been seen in the classroom with a lighter and a leaf,” Linda said, adding that Wilson told them that their son bragged to “several students” that “we had marijuana growing in our back yard and that his dad knew about it and didn’t care,” Linda said.
To that, Bruce Bays said: “It’s farfetched. Anybody who knows me knows that’s not true.” Linda said she asked Wilson to see the leaf; they were rebuffed and told it’s “already in evidence.” According to the Bays, Wilson has refused – and still refuses – to allow them to see the leaf. “We have never seen the leaf. [Our son] has been out of school for six months.”
The Roanoke Times picks up the story:
The boy was immediately suspended for 10 days pending an administrative hearing. Wilson was there but the deputy was not, the Bays said. Bruce Bays said: “During the hearing I asked Wilson, ‘What about the field test on the marijuana leaf?’” The assistant principal hemmed and hawed “and finally he got around to it and said ‘I’m not qualified to interpret the results of the field test,’” Bruce Bays said.
The boy was suspended for 364 school days. A written letter stated the reason: “possession of marijuana.” In November, the Bays went to their son’s juvenile court hearing. It was only then that they learned that three independent tests had ruled out the leaves being marijuana. The commonwealth prosecutor dropped the juvenile charges.
But the school was a different matter altogether. Despite the formal charges being dropped, the school wanted to uphold the suspension. After the juvenile court date, Linda Bays said: “I immediately sent a letter to the school operations chief Frederick Duis. His response? Linda said: “He told us, ‘The court system and the school system were two different entities.’”
Although the legal consequences have been lifted, and even though the school has allowed their son to re-enroll, the Bays say their son has suffered tremendously. At first, he was mandated to attend what the Bays call a “problem school” – essentially a school for troubled kids who cannot function in the public school system. There, their son would be subjected to pat downs and property searches every day.
In lieu of that, the Bays were allowed to homeschool their son, but he also was prevented from any social aspects of school – band practices, sporting events, school functions and performances. The school also forced the Bays to have their son evaluated for substance abuse problems. So they did – on their own dime. Now, the Bays are out of money and out of patience.
After the most recent disciplinary hearing, Linda said their son “just broke down and said his life was over. He [said he] would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job.”
The lawsuit by the Bays does face one potential roadblock. The school’s drug policy bans not only actual illegal substances but also “imitation controlled substances,” which it defines as a “pill, capsule, tablet, or other item which is not a controlled substance.”
What is your opinion on the fate of this boy? Did the school handle themselves appropriately? Vigilance over controlled substances and illegal drugs infiltrating schools – even elementary and middle schools – is a constant subject of concern among school administrators. Even the mere suggestion of something criminal can yield serious consequences.
Last year, a student’s “finger gun” got a fifth grader into trouble with school officials, sending the Ohio student home with a three-day suspension for using his fingers to imitate a gun and point it at a fellow student’s head. In May of 2013, a Florida boy chewed a Pop-Tart pastry into the shape of a pistol, earning him a suspension from school (and a lifetime membership from the NRA).
Sound off below on this sixth grade boy, suspended over a leaf.