An Italian friend celebrated for his culinary agility used to shake oregano on everything, telling me, “Never fear the spice.” He might reconsider that advice if he heard about the 13-year-old North Carolina student handed a 55-day suspension for bringing a bag of oregano to school and telling classmates it was marijuana.
The family of the eighth-grader at Cuthbertson Middle School is considering a lawsuit because of a school decision to add 45 more days to the original 10-day suspension that the boy received. The family has a lawyer from the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit that defends civil liberties, human rights and religious liberty.
I’ve discussed this story with several co-workers and friends. Most concur that the boy deserved to be punished for his stupid prank, but there was debate over whether 10 days was too extreme, never mind 45 more days out of class in an alternative school.
Given all the warnings to students about drugs, including all the drug-free zone signs around their schools, this middle school student showed poor judgment with his faux marijuana. But should he spend 55 days out of his class for his mistake?
The school immediately handed down a 10-day suspension. When that suspension ended the school added an additional 45-day suspension to be served at a special alternative school. The student’s family lost an appeal to get him back into Cuthbertson and is now being represented by an attorney.
The boy’s mother agreed to talk to Eyewitness News as long as her identity wasn’t revealed. She said she’s worried his “childish prank” will hurt his chances to get into college. “I don’t know if this is going to come back to haunt him,” she said. “It just seemed a ridiculous response for a 13-year-old child that’s playing a prank to be sentenced for 45 additional days for a bag of oregano. It just seemed crazy. Over the top.”
The teen was immediately suspended for 10 days and ordered to attend a drug class when he handed his friend the bag of oregano on Jan. 20. “I actually was not fighting the 10-day suspension, even though I still thought it was a little much for having a bag of a substance that’s not illegal,” said the mother.
When the school principal recommended an additional 45-day suspension, the teen’s family appealed the decision. The family is now being represented by attorney John Whitehead with the Rutherford Institute in Virginia. He plans on suing if the teen isn’t allowed back into his regular school immediately.
“If it was marijuana? Sure. It should be dealt with seriously. I think it should be dealt with probably by the police. But this is oregano, folks! This is what you put on pizza. It was a joke,” he said.
District spokesman Luan Ingram said she couldn’t discuss this case specifically, or go into detail about the teen’s disciplinary record. She said the decision was made with thoughtful consideration. “He told his classmates he had marijuana to give away. It’s not a zero-tolerance policy, but we use judgment in our decisions,” Ingram said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog