The leaf, which resembled cannabis, tested negative for marijuana three times.
BEDFORD COUNTY, VA — An 11-year-old boy has endured relentless attacks from the government for bringing a leaf to school that tested negative for marijuana. Nevertheless, he was suspended from school for a 364 days and charged with possession of marijuana
–even after it was proven on multiple occasions that the plant was not weed.
On September 22nd of last year, students at Bedford Middle School reported to school authorities that a boy had a lighter and a bag with a leaf in it. He was “bragging” that it was marijuana, which violated the school’s zero-tolerance policy. The policy includes “imitation” or “look-alike” drugs.
When officials found the “drug,” it led to the boy’s suspension, but vice-principal Brian Wilson and school resource officer M.M. Calohan took it a step further: they contacted the police, who charged him with possession of marijuana.
His parents, Bruce and Linda Bays (both school teachers), are outraged. As the family’s lawyer, Melvin Williams, said:
“Essentially they kicked him out of school for something they couldn’t prove he did…The field test came back not inconclusive, but negative…Yet she went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school.”
The Bays say the official story has changed several times. Their son claims he has no idea how the leaf got in his backpack. Linda, the boy’s mother, says Wilson initially said he had been in the bathroom with the lighter and leaf. Then Wilson said he was in the classroom. Wilson also said the boy claimed his parents grew marijuana in their backyard and that the boy said a high schooler gave him the leaf and lighter on the bus.
His mother, Linda Bays, told the Roanoke Times:
“I asked, ‘Can I see the leaf?’ and the deputy said, ‘No, it’s already in evidence.’ We have never seen the leaf. He’s been out of school for six months.”
At a juvenile court hearing in November, the family learned that the prosecution was filing a continuance on the case because they had neglected to have the leaf tested. When the family rejected a continuance through their lawyer at the time, Emily Sitzler, the court revealed that they would drop the charges. The family learned that the leaf had actually been tested three times and repeatedly came back negative.
Nevertheless, a new school hearing left the boy suspended from school, able only to attend an “alternative education” center where he would be patted down daily. He was allowed to study from home, but told that if he fell behind he would have to attend in person.
According to the Times, Linda Bays says the boy has started seeing a psychiatrist at the behest of the school, who wanted him evaluated for “substance abuse” problems.
The psychiatrist found no evidence of such a problem and recommended to the school that the boy be able to return to class. He has started attending a different school as of this week, but remains on strict probation until September. In the meantime, in February, the Bays filed a federal lawsuit against Wilson and Calohan, claiming malicious prosecution and violations of due process.
The Bays experience is outrageous, but unfortunately nothing new. Students are punished harshly for benign actions: a boy was punished for sharing food with a friend while one student was suspended for “terroristic threats” for bringing a Lord of the Ring toy to school and acting out a scene from the movie. The policies that enable such punishments may be intended to promote safety but are misguided and damaging.
By punishing students for things they do not understand are “wrong” (and aren’t wrong outside of authoritarian public schools), institutions are shaping young people to be terrified of non-conformity, disobedience, and freedom. As Linda Bays said, after the disciplinary hearing,
“…he just broke down and said his life was over. He would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job… Now their son is skittish about going out in public, suffers from panic attacks and is depressed. The psychiatrist is treating him for that.”
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