Another Innocent Life Destroyed by Zero ToleranceLast September Brian Wilson, an assistant principal at Bedford (Va.) Middle School, found a leaf in an 11-year-old student’s backpack. The sixth-grader, who was in the gifted and talented program, says he doesn’t know how it got into his backpack, which had been sitting in an unsecured locker before Wilson grabbed it. Assuming it was marijuana, Wilson called in the school’s “resource officer” — a sheriff’s deputy — to check it out. Deputy M.M. Calohan tested it three times, and every time it came back negative for marijuana, but she “went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school,” says Melvin Williams, the boy’s attorney. School officials suspended the boy for 10 days, pending an expulsion hearing. At that hearing, it was decided not to expel the boy, but rather to suspend him ...for 364 days. The leaf went to the crime lab for further testing. Months later, the crime lab confirmed the initial tests: it was not marijuana. The school system reluctantly accepted the boy back to class — but only at a different school, and only under “strict probation” until those 364 days are up. But after six months of suspicion and absence from school — not to mention a school-mandated “substance abuse evaluation” — the boy is “withdrawn socially, and is now under the care of a pediatric psychiatrist for panic attacks and depression,” according to his parents, Bruce and Linda Bays, who are both school teachers. After the hearing, “he just broke down and said his life was over,” Linda Bays said. “He would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job.” The Bays family is nearly out of money after paying for lawyers, doctors, and home-schooling, so with Williams’ help, they’ve filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the sheriff’s department for their zero tolerance punishment of their unnamed son’s non-crime. The same attorney is defending both: Jim Guynn has filed a motion to dismiss, saying that the school’s zero tolerance anti-drug policy doesn’t just prohibit actual drugs, but also “lookalike” and “imitation” drugs; that’s “a pretty standard rule across the commonwealth,” Guynn says. “It’s the same punishment and exactly the same result.” (RC/Roanoke Times) ...This is an innocent child. And this is the inevitable outcome in a school governed by zero tolerance. Any questions?
This story is in True’s book collections, in Volume 21.
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