Zero Tolerance

This Kid Was Expelled and Charged for Bringing Pot to School, Even Though He Didn't

Zero tolerance: Virginia school officials stand by their wrongful expulsion of an 11-year-old boy.

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Leaf
jhandersen / Dreamstime

Administrators at a middle school in central Virginia suspended a sixth-grader last September for one-year after discovering a marijuana leaf and a lighter in his backpack. The sheriff's department became involved as well and filed drug possession charges against the 11-year-old boy.

Months later, prosecutors had to drop the charge. Why? The leaf had thrice been tested for marijuana and come back negative.

The boy, unnamed in this excellent story in The Roanoke Times, returned to school this week. But officials have been loathe to admit that any mistakes were made—they now maintain that since "lookalike" drugs are also prohibited, the boy may still have violated district policy.

His parents, Bruce and Linda Bays, are suing the school and the county for due process abridgement and malicious prosecution. I'll summarize the alleged details:

  • Officials at the school, Bedford Middle School, have changed their story with regard to how the leaf was discovered. They maintained that other students saw the leaf and tipped off the school, though it's not clear whether that happened on the bus, in the bathroom, or in a classroom.
  • The leaf was immediately impounded into evidence: The Bays were never allowed to inspect it for themselves. They believe another student put it in their son's bag to play a prank on him.
  • The Bays' lawsuit claims that a sheriff's deputy swore before a magistrate that the substance was marijuana, even though field testing contradicted that assessment.
  • The boy was supposed to enroll in an alternative education program at a school for troubled youngsters, where he would be searched for drugs twice a day. Instead, he opted to take online classes, but the psychological trauma of the ordeal caused him to quickly fall behind.
  • He was also forced to talk to a psychiatrist about substance abuse problems. He wasn't abusing any substances, but thanks to the school's absurd anti-drug zealotry, he now has lots of real problems. He suffers from depression, worries that his life is over, and is concerned he will never get into college. (Remember: He's 11.)
  • When asked about the appropriateness of their actions—given that the leaf was not actually marijuana—the sheriff's attorney pointed out that it hardly matters: "It's the same punishment and exactly the same result," regardless of whether the drug paraphernalia is real or fake.

Allegedly, those are the facts. It could be the case that the Bays' account is biased, but the sheriff's perspective doesn't substantially refute any of their key contentions.

A few things. First, I labelled this an expulsion, even though The Times story used the less harsh word suspension. I despise this practice. A one-year ejection from middle school (with no guarantee of return) is not a slap on the wrist, it's the end of a young person's normal social life as he knows it. Such punishments should be reserved for serious menaces, not perpetrators of trivial slights. Let's call them what they are.

Second, the punishment seems much more severe than the alleged crime, even if the crime had turned out to be real. The boy has probably suffered worse consequences as a result of the expulsion than he would have suffered from consuming a single leaf of marijuana. And no 11-year-old boy should fret about whether he has been rendered ineligible for college.

Third, imagine the time, money, and effort expended by grown adults whose "jobs" apparently require them to work studiously to ruin a little boy's life. Is this a defensible use of public resources?

Fourth, there's nothing mysterious or ambiguous about the quality of justice one receives when the rules bear the label "zero tolerance." It's right there in the name.

I know I would want tolerance—and lots of it—if it were my kids.

Hat tip: Top The News

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  1. Damn Canadians and their pesky maple leaves.

    1. Da fuck did we do?

      1. I’m not among them, but there are a lot of people who dislike your entire country’s population because of a band named Nickleback.

        1. So you’re saying you like Nickelback.

          You’ve just been put on the Hate List.

          1. I don’t blame the whole of Canada for any group (or any individual, for that matter).

            Prime Minister Stephen Harper included.

            1. SH is the best PM Canada has had in the 45 years I’ve been actively watching politics.

              He is a right wing Christian but keeps it out of politics as he also is the most libertarian leaning politician in Canada. He thinks his religious stuff is his and not to be dumped onto the populace.

              1. “He thinks his religious stuff is his and not to be dumped onto the populace.”

                Wow. That really distinguishes him.

        2. I occasionally go to a rock n roll yoga class Friday nights and the only absolute rule is NO Nickelback!

          1. What about Coldplay?

          2. Nickel back is the canadian music version of nicolas cage.

        3. At least it’s not an irrational dislike.

      2. He had the audacity of doing something which we believe may not have been legal, regardless of any facts. WE WILL NOT LET THE FACTS GET IN OUR WAY OF SHOWING ANY INTELLIGENCE!

    2. Canada. We need a wall to keep out those look a like pot leaves which look nothing like pot but idiots who don’t know the difference don’t know that. God forbid someone brings to class a pot look a like tomato plant. Think if someone tied a couple tomatoes to a pot plant any of these school administrative idiots would know the difference?

  2. Damn Americans and their bust everyone we’ll sort it out later and when they discover there was no basis for charges we just ignore the mistake.

    1. Just like the UVA rape case.

      It doesn’t matter if the charges are true or not. It is the seriousness of the charges that warrant offical action.

      1. Just like Kurt Busch.

  3. Meh, it’s not my kid. Who cares.

    /average American

    1. As long as they’re not on my lawn screw ’em.

    2. If they are on my lawn GET THE H3LL OFF!

    3. You will care, when you or your kid get arrested for having a plant/leaf that looks like pot that someone planted in your car, on your desk, or on your property.

  4. Damn everyone. Humans suck.

  5. He’ll start wearing all black soon.

    1. School drove me to the Goths. I remember once I got to school and was carrying my trumpet (I sat first chair grades seven through 12, was trumpet one in the jazz ensemble, and front row end in the marching band. They knew I played).? Because I was wearing a black trenchcoat, I presume, the assistant principal stopped me searched my trumpet case and then insisted I leave it with him while I went to my locker, despite the fact his search turned up nothing but a second hand King 500 B, a 7c mouthpiece and a bottle of valve oil.

      This was 2002.

      1. I think in six years they did a locker search in my school – on everybody – maybe once or twice. No metal detectors, no K9 kops. Rust-belt ghetto neighborhood. The 80’s were such an innocent time….

        1. My schools never had a mass locker search… but of course I went to international schools in countries where we had, you know, *real* problems – like civil wars and suicide bombers.

        2. They never did a search of my locker in high school that I know of. I never had a lock on it. If someone wanted to steal my textbooks they could have them.

        3. My school did occasional locker searches, and when a friend was selling bootlegged cigarettes and got caught with a pack he passed his locker combination to a fellow miscreant who was released early from the principal’s office and to mutual satisfaction absconded with a dozen cartons (and two bottles of scotch) ahead of the search. A minor misdemeanor instead of expulsion. Not bad for a seventh-grader.

      2. Everyone knows that us band nerds are the real trouble makers. Especially trumpet players.

        1. Treblemaker!

          1. It’s all about that bass.

            1. Music to my ears.

      3. So you’re saying being trapped in a tightly regulated and regimented environment run by petty tyrants along side a horde of other youths who also didn’t want to be there didn’t instill you with great self-esteem and civic pride?

  6. They’re doing it for the children, don’t you understand.

    1. It’s always for the children at the expense of the adults. Apparently no one has noticed that all children who live for X number of years become adults.

      1. We had to burn the child to save the child.

      2. ” that all children who live for X number of years become adults.”

        Not true by many definitions.

      3. They grow up to be pricks that search kids’ lockers.

    2. This shit is why I’m glad I don’t have kids. Because if this was being done to my kid, there might be a body count.

      1. Actually, there already is a Body Count, and ironically enough, they have already addressed the theme that you have touched upon. In fact, they’ve summed it up in just four words. Here is their eloquent discussion of the matter:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sokdL-0iV9s

    3. “They’re doing it for the children, don’t you understand.”

      Maybe it’s you who doesn’t understand. What is the growth of the number of students over the past few decades? Public, private, K-12, university, take your pick. What is the growth of teachers over the same period? And finally, what is the growth of administrators? If you can find an answer to those questions, and it shouldn’t be too hard, you should be well on the way to understanding what is happening here.

  7. So thought crime, then?

    1. Sounds more like a lack of thought crime.

  8. Power means never having to admit to being wrong, even when everyone knows it.

    1. People in government who I have known, especially at the local level and in the police department, seem to relish these moments over all others: when the person they are inconveniencing/punishing is clearly in the right, is effectively arguing that they are in the right, and is still made to suffer.

      1. Power seekers are sadists.

    2. And “policy” means concentrating power while dissipating responsibility.

  9. Round here they’re treating e-cigs as drug paraphernalia in schools because it is possible to use them for something other than nicotine. No actual drugs required. Kid has an e-cig, and that’s it. Zero tolerance means zero thought.

    1. Well, at least they are, technically, drug paraphernalia. Though if they are punishing that more than if they were caught with cigarettes under age, it’s pretty absurd.

      Thanks for the link to ecig1, by the way. Great prices on the juice.

      1. YW. Don’t know how the juice quality compares to others, but the price sure is right.

      2. Well, at least they are, technically, drug paraphernalia.

        Alcohol is a drug, ergo glasses and cups are drug paraphernalia.

      3. “Well, at least they are, technically, drug paraphernalia.”

        If we’re gonna do that then so are cigarette lighters. Newspapers, aluminum foil, all kinds of every day items.

        1. Plastic-bag-free zones.

        2. Spray cans are also technically drug paraphe-, paraphe-, spray cans also be used to get high, but I like to combine them with lighters to make weapons.

  10. He was also forced to talk to a psychiatrist about substance abuse problems. He wasn’t abusing any substances, but thanks to the school’s absurd anti-drug zealotry, he now has lots of real problems. He suffers from depression, worries that his life is over, and is concerned he will never get into college. (Remember: he’s 11.)

    Sounds like this kid could use some weed.

    1. They do it for the (other) children…

    2. It would certainly be ironic if this shit ended up driving him to drug use. If I were in his shoes I might just be tempted to say “Fuck it, if I’m going to be labeled a drug user even though I’m not, I might as well go make friends with one of the well known burnouts that somehow never get busted even though all the kids they know they use and see if he can hook me up.”

      1. Yeah, but the ultimate irony would be if he wound up on court-ordered medical mj.

  11. He was also forced to talk to a psychiatrist about substance abuse problems. He wasn’t abusing any substances, but thanks to the school’s absurd anti-drug zealotry, he now has lots of real problems. He suffers from depression, worries that his life is over, and is concerned he will never get into college. (Remember: he’s 11.)

    Better keep an eye on that kid. Sounds like he could shoot the place up at any time.

    Seriously, fuck the people involved in this.

    1. Better keep an eye on that kid. Sounds like he could shoot the place up at any time.

      Dammit, don’t say that. Now they’re going to arrest him again and charge him with… hell, I don’t know, they’ll think of something.

      1. Now they’re going to arrest him again and charge him with… hell, I don’t know
        Making terrorist threats, possesion of a (non-existent) firearm on school property… Oh, and of course resisting arrest (actually they’ll probably just shoot him for that last one.

    2. I see this driving him to become an Eagle Scout, then heading up to the University of Texas at Austin.

      Ballad of Charles Whitman
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nXwcq4i2gII

  12. Second, the punishment seems much more severe than the alleged crime, even if the crime had turned out to be real.

    Welcome to every single prohibition case ever tried, ever.

  13. “lookalike” drugs are also prohibited

    I bet the cafeteria is awash in “lookalike” drugs.

    1. you’re making the mistake of thinking a school cafeteria has anything resembling an ingredient on the shelves.

  14. Codified order specifically removes the gray area of tolerance.

    The administrative-obsessed do not have the mental ability to think past rules and codes if situations require common sense rather than autocratic application. And, if something does arise that forces them to think outside the box they will literally twist and thrown themselves back into the box to avoid alarming or startling their aversion to flexibility.

    Law has pretty significant limitations and its most odious is how it produces minds that tend to be excessively black and white. Humans are not fucking automatons and miniature homo sapiens even less so.

    How the education scene from the beginning years way up the ladder to higher-education allowed itself to become so narrow-minded seems to run ragged against the grain of knowledge-gathering and imagination.

    1. Since their jobs involve no thought any more, you’d think these admins would be down for pay cuts and “retirements”.

      1. Auto-fucking-mation. The Principal-O-Matic 4200 can administrate over 10 million students per second, costs far less to operate and maintain, and even functions as a wifi hotspot. Now Accepting Orders.

        1. Rules are for people who hate to make decisions, or more accurately, assume the responsibility for making decisions.

    2. Law has pretty significant limitations and its most odious is how it produces minds that tend to be excessively black and white.

      It’s only as limited as a group of legislators want it to be at any given time. That’s why statutory law rules the world.

  15. When asked about the appropriateness of their actions?given that the leaf was not actually marijuana?the sheriff’s attorney pointed out that it hardly matters

    No shit. Drug policy is nothing if not arbitrary and enforcement of the policy has no basis in justice whatsoever, it makes sense that you don’t need to actually be guilty of this pseudo-crime to be prosecuted for it.

  16. Bureaucratic incompetence is the hallmark of the State, and its public services are necessarily designed such that one size fits all.

    So it should never come as a surprise to read of incredibly stupid displays of incompetence in inappropriate actions taken by bureaucrats in the State’s indoctrination centers (aka, public schools).

  17. This is absolutely, completely, staggeringly, imbecilically stupid. I honest-to-god feel like I’ve been slipped some sort of crazy pill. How can this possibly be justified?

    1. The kid had a lighter. Obviously he was no Boy Scout.

      1. Unless he had his firem’n chit with him.

  18. When asked about the appropriateness of their actions?given that the leaf was not actually marijuana?the sheriff’s attorney pointed out that it hardly matters: “It’s the same punishment and exactly the same result,” regardless of whether the drug paraphernalia is real or fake.

    The cost of civilization, everybody! Let’s give it a big round of applause.

    Thank you, it’ll be here all eternity.

  19. Administrators at a middle school in central Virginia

    Bedford is in central Virginia? Isn’t that next to Roanoke?

  20. Too bad he wasn’t an 18 year old gentle giant, then he may have scored thousands of protestors marching to demand his immediate re-instatement to school and punishment for all the officials who perpetrated this outrage.

  21. Too bad he wasn’t an 18 year old gentle giant small black child, then he may have scored thousands of protestors marching to demand his immediate re-instatement to school and punishment for all the officials who perpetrated this outrage.

  22. They had the “lookalike drug” rule when I was in high school, back in the HW Bush administration. It was a) transparently about stopping kids from mocking the drug war, and b) clearly even back then had the potential for this kind of incident.

    Just one of the bads that I saw way back then and are now coming to fruition. Being a cynic doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry, but it does mean being right a lot.

  23. So they charged him with a crime of which he was innocent, but now say it’s OK because they *could* have charged him with some other crime – which they didn’t actually charge him with.

    Booyah presumption of innocence!

    1. But apparently there will be some time spent arguing whether the case should be in federal or state court.

  24. When asked about the appropriateness of their actions?given that the leaf was not actually marijuana?the sheriff’s attorney pointed out that it hardly matters: “It’s the same punishment and exactly the same result,” regardless of whether the drug paraphernalia is real or fake.

    So, because some idiot with an authority boner is unable to correctly identify the species of the leaf, just because he confuses it for a marijuana leaf makes it a ‘fake’ marijuana leaf?

    1. I have a Japanese maple whose leaf could be confused with a marijuana leaf. Does that mean I have a fake Marijuana tree and am subject to arrest for cultivation?

        1. For the briefest of moments I thought I saw Waldo.

    2. Like the “fake bombs” in Boston.

  25. School is the single most dangerous place a child can be. Teach your children to trust nothing about the education system. Take the education they give you, but only believe the “hard” stuff like mathematics and physics. Parrot the rest back, but never believe it. Be subtle as snakes. Give nothing back to the system. Whatever you say will be taken down and used against you. Treat them as if they were enemy captors interrogating you as a POW. Know that the teacher is a cop who wants to destroy you; a tyrant who wants to enslave you, a spy who wants to betray you.

    Sorry about that, good teachers, but you have the responsibility to take the schools back. So do the district’s voters. Harangue, harass, and if necessary, terrorize the Liberal Vermin out of the system. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem, too. No prisoners. No quarter.

    1. Aren’t you the genius, blaming all this crap on the left, especially in the context of a war on drugs insanity. Stop rooting for the laundry, and start thinking FFS.

  26. If powdered sugar is found in the cafeteria then the cooks, and more importantly, the administration that facilitated its acquisition should be jailed for bring a cocaine-like substance onto school grounds.

  27. I know I would want tolerance revenge?and lots of it?if it were my kids.

    Seriously, there’d be some severe beatings handed out to school administrators, sherriff’s debuties, and judges.

  28. Clearly, it’s a lookalike drug!!! Hey leaves look like leaves!!!

    Bye, not expecting an admission of error from Sloopy but it’s been YEARS and none of his predictions about federal retaliation against legalized MJ here in WA have come true

    I am right. He was wrong

    There IS/WAS a qualitative difference between med mj and legalized mj and that’s why the Feds have mostly left us the fuck alone on this!!!!!

    We are winning and mj legalization will expand
    Mhth

    1. You can’t spell “The artist known Dunphy” without “We shit on truth”.

    2. I always get this tingle running up my leg when I am in the presense of a hero.

  29. tell me again, if you dont break the law you have nothing to fear.

    1. Reminds me of all the a$$ clowns defending the NSA wiretapping.

  30. “lookalike” drugs are also prohibited

    Pray some kid doesn’t make a pop-tart marijuana leaf.

    1. I think someone needs to plant a tree, say a Japanese Maple, on school grounds. Then, when kids drag them in on wet shoes, they can really bust some butts!

    2. And why aren’t Americas oregano producers out lobbying to have their product put on the list of things that would not be considered look alike drugs? Huh? What about flour and sugar?

  31. One thing to note is that it’s possible to have “zero-tolerance” policies which only ban actual illegal actions. Evidently this is too esoteric a concept for the public school system.

    1. you are misinterpreting the nature of the law. Banning actual drugs is not effective because they have to make sure the kids aren’t even THINKING about drugs, hence banning anything that might make them think about drugs, or any evidence they might have thought about drugs. I think that if the state were to analyze this case, they might conclude that their efforts were misplaced. The kids that put the leafin the bag should be expelled, because they were clearly thinking about weed.

  32. Well, if reported correctly in this story it seems criminal on the part of the school district or if not is should be a crime. I suggest that district officials be criminally liable in cases like this and most of it would stop.

  33. my co-worker’s step-sister makes $82 hourly on the laptop . She has been without work for 6 months but last month her check was $14598 just working on the laptop for a few hours.

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  34. ” But officials have been loathe to admit that any mistakes were made?they now maintain that since “lookalike” drugs are also prohibited, the boy may still have violated district policy.”

    Love the Catch22. When they’re wrong about busting you, it’s *your* fault because you tricked them by “looking like” you did something.

    Rulers rule, and peasants take it. Cheer up. Is Serfdom really so bad?

  35. “The Bays’ lawsuit claims that a sheriff’s deputy swore before a magistrate that the substance was marijuana, even though field testing contradicted that assessment.”

    So he’s up on perjury charges, right? Ha ha, I kill myself!

  36. Why should bringing fake drugs to school warrant an expulsion? So if a kid brings flour and casually tells a friend that it’s cocaine, s/he get expelled. What?

  37. a sheriff’s deputy swore before a magistrate that the substance was marijuana, even though field testing contradicted that assessment.

    Testilying against an 11 year old in a pot case. Is there any sacrifice our brave heroea are not willing to make for Public Safety?

  38. OT:

    What happened to the Pit Bull thread ?

  39. “One thing to note is that it’s possible to have “zero-tolerance” policies which only ban actual illegal actions. Evidently this is too esoteric a concept for the public school system.”

    This is still stupid. Even if the 11 yo had real pot zero-tolerance is a failed concept. You don’t expel him and charge him and send him into “the system”. You help him. You have a conference with his parents. You ask them to agree to have him searched occasionally at school. You educate him. You make every effort to guide him back. He’s 11 ffs!

  40. I think everyone here is being a bit hard on the school. They are doing what they can to ensure no middle-school kids will come into contact with marijuana. And, thanks to their stellar efforts I’m sure not one of those kids even has an inkling about marijuana. Because if they stop the kids from bringing in ‘fake’ marijuana, that is a ‘leaf’, then they’ve done their part in stopping our kids from becoming drug addicts.

    I think teachers are heroes. Much the same way I think policemen are heroes.

  41. The only place I’ve ever been in that was close to being as vicious as school was a religious organization I once belonged to.

    The most warm and affectionate place I’ve ever been involved in was a high pressure sales centre where we did really hard closing on a daily basis. Warm, nice people, every one of them totally messed up, but the only time I had ever been with people to that date who didn’t seem as if they wanted to kill me and eat me first chance they got.

  42. I had something sort of similar happen to me on the last day of my junior year. Basically, I was dating a lame ass girl that was mad because I was out having a good time and no one wanted her around. She went and told the school cop that I was smoking weed before class, which I was not.

    I was called to the cop’s office after lunch and he explained to me that a lunch lady had smelled marijuana on me. When I inquired how this was possible that a smell could be singled to me with so many people standing all around me in line, he declined to answer. He then proceeded to do some bullshit tests that he made up on the spot and explained to me that I was high. When I told him that I hadn’t smoked weed in over a week and it was therefore impossible that I was high, he told me that he didn’t believe me (even though I openly admitted to smoking weed). He then proceeded to give me a piss test (which I obviously failed). Needless to say the cop and the school broke a lot of laws (questioning a minor without an adult, making up drug tests, lying, etc). They suspended me for the first week of my senior year.

    My parents were so pissed that they didn’t even bother to stop and think about the whole situation until it was too late. Used to be naive and trust cops up until this point. Learned my lesson and have never assumed that a cop was ever a good guy since then. I mostly treat them and school officials (I have kids now) coldly and with the utmost suspicion and contempt.

  43. Sad when there are f*@#ing idiots in positions of power.

  44. I do not have children. I do not want to have children. Bringing a child into THIS world is the equivelant of owning a very expensive speed boat that is constantly being watched by the DEA on suspicion that it is being used to smuggle cocaine. If you are on the boat, you are a potential coke smuggler, if you leave the boat alone, the fucking harbor patrol will cite you for neglect.

  45. They’re trying to pass off their school system as education, but it just tested negative.

  46. I agree it must be illegal for minors to posses pot, but so-called zero tolerance laws at schools are a hypocrisy.

  47. Huh. It policies from the left were responsible, pro forma Reason writing would have been certain to mention it. Since this is largely on the right, where’s the linkage?

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