Gifted 6th Grade Student Suspended For Having A ‘Leaf’ In His Backpack

leaf that looks like marijuana

Earlier this school year, a sixth-grader in the gifted-and-talented program at Bedford Middle School in Bedford, Virginia was suspended for one year after an assistant principal found something that looked like a marijuana leaf in his backpack.

It wasn’t a marijuana leaf. It was a normal leaf.

The child of parents Bruce and Linda Bays – both who happen to be school teachers – had to enroll their son in the district’s alternative education program and be homeschooled. He was evaluated by a psychiatrist for substance abuse problems, and charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court.

According to a Washington Post blog, the child has since become withdrawn, depressed, and suffers from panic attacks. He is worried his life is over, according to his mother, and that he will never get into college.

Months after the fact, the couple learned the substance wasn’t marijuana. A prosecutor dropped the juvenile court charge because the leaf had field-tested negative three times. The school system, however, was far less forgiving. This comes as a result of stringent anti-drug policies in school districts in Virginia and elsewhere that consider “imitation” drugs to be identical to real ones for disciplinary purposes.

No. You are not reading The Onion.

According to a column in the Roanoke Times detailing this event, the Bays have filed a lawsuit agains Bedford County Schools and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office. Bedford Middle School Assistant Principal Brian Wilson and school operations chief Frederick “Mac” Duis violated his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“Essentially they kicked him out of school for something they couldn’t prove he did,” said attorney Melvin Williams, who is representing the Bays in this matter.

The school’s lawyer, Jim Guynn, is quoted in the Roanoke Times article defending the policy on the basis that “it’s a pretty standard policy across the Commonwealth.” In 2011, for instance, four seventh-graders in Chesapeake, Virginia were suspended over bringing a bag of oregano to school.

Bedford County Sheriff’s Office will also be accused of malicious prosecution, because Deputy M.M. Calohan, a school resource officer, filed marijuana possession charges against the boy despite field tests that indicated otherwise.

“The field test came back not inconclusive, but negative,” Williams said. “Yet she went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school.”

However, according the Guynn, this may not matter, as moves to dismiss their case, arguing that under the school board’s anti-drug policies it may not matter whether the leaf was marijuana or not.

“Why would you want an 11-year-old gifted-and-talented student out of school for 364 days?” Mrs. Bays added.

How the principal came to learn about the suspicious leaf that lead to his suspension appears to be questionable. Some say that the boy was teasing that it was, in fact, a marijuana leaf and another student reported it. Authorities also say that the parents deny that their child would do such a thing and say that another student planted it in his backpack as a joke. Either way, common sense says this is clearly an open-shut-case.

The U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon ordered the lawsuit be referred to mediation with U.S. Magistrate Robert Ballou. 

Even if the lawsuit isn’t brought before a jury, the case brings up questions that parents should be considering regarding the current zero-tolerence drug climate in schools like Virginia. This type of policy, though arguably a well-intentioned one, is a slippery slope for children who may be completely innocent of any knowledge of what a marijuana leaf looks like.

Virginia, and other school districts with a similar policy in place, are creating a milieu that possession of a marijuana plant is so potentially lethal that we must punish a child to the highest extent of the law; that they must be presumed guilty until proven innocent of any wrongdoing.

As a mother of three children, I think that it would be prudent for schools funded by tax dollars to educate students, first, by example, the principles underlined in the U.S. Constitution.

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