An eighth-grade student in North Carolina was suspended from school after pulling a prank on a classmate with a bag of oregano following a lecture on the dangers of marijuana. A civil liberties group has lined up in his corner, but officials at the school aren’t backing down.
The boy was thrown out of school for 55 days for the incident at Cuthbertson Middle School in Waxhaw, N.C., reports My Fox Orlando
. Hidebound school officials point at the district’s policy manual, which says students can get a 10-day suspension for “possessing illegal or counterfeit drugs” and “misuse of chemical/material (organic or otherwise) that causes or is purported to cause a hallucinogenic/mind altering effect.”
Long suspensions can be imposed if imperious school officials claim that a student’s conduct “demonstrates a willful violation” of school policies, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
“It was just a joke,” said the mother of the boy, who is not being identified because of his age. “He’s embarrassed that it’s turned into such a big issue. He actually said he doesn’t know why he did it. But he didn’t have an illegal substance to begin with.”
The matter was handled according to “student discipline policy,” claimed Luan Ingram, spokeswoman for Union County Public Schools. Ingram declined further comment.
The suspension is a “gross overreaction” to a childish prank, the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute wrote in a letter to Union County Public Schools officials, and said it may be a violation of the boy’s constitutional rights.
“We want the record cleaned up so this doesn’t track him for the rest of his life,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
The boy immediately received a 10-day suspension after the incident last month, in which he passed a bag of oregano to a friend the day after their health class discussed marijuana. On February 1, school officials notified the boy’s family that he had been “recommended” for an additional 45 days of suspension.
Their appeal of the additional term was denied this week, and the boy is attending a school for “at-risk” students until he’s eligible to return to regular classes at Cuthbertson on March 29.
School spokeswoman Ingram refused to discuss whether the boy had prior disciplinary issues, but his distraught mom said he has never been in serious trouble. He’s been punished for things like chewing gum on the bus and roughhousing on school grounds, she said.
“Nothing serious, all kids’ stuff,” she said, adding that he’s never been suspended from school before.
According to the Rutherford Institute’s Whitehead, oregano can’t be considered a “counterfeit or synthetic drug” since the term is not defined in the school district’s policy manual, and it doesn’t fit the statutory definition in state law. That violates the kid’s due process rights, Whitehead said.
North Carolina law requires local school boards to confine the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions to violations deemed to threaten the safety of students, staff or school visitors, or threaten to “substantially disrupt” the educational environment, according to Whitehead.
“Your school district would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that [the boy’s]conduct either threatened the safety of the school community or substantially disrupted the school environment,” Whitehead’s letter to the school district said.