An 11-year-old Virginia boy was suspended for 364 days after being caught in possession of a leaf that, as it turned out, repeatedly tested negative for marijuana, The Roanoke Times' Dan Casey reports.
Last September, officials at Bedford Middle School learned of a rumor that a student was bragging about having marijuana. When the vice principal searched the student, he found a lighter and a "leaf" in the boy's backpack, and in accordance with the school's "zero tolerance" policy -- which applies to both actual and "lookalike" or "imitation" drugs -- suspended the boy for a year.
The vice principal and school resource officer also contacted the police, who filed marijuana possession charges against the 11-year-old.
However, when the prosecutor had the "leaf" tested -- on three separate occasions -- the tests came back negative for marijuana.
The boy's parents -- both of whom are teachers -- have filed a federal lawsuit against Bedford County Schools, claiming that Assistant Principal Brian Wilson, Resource Officer M.M. Calohan, and Operations Chief Frederick Duis violated their son's due process rights.
"Essentially they kicked him out of school for something they couldn’t prove he did," their attorney, Melvin Williams, told The Roanoke Times.
"The field test came back not inconclusive, but negative,” he continued. “Yet [Resource Officer Calohan] went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school."
When the boy's parents were contacted by the school and asked what had happened, they were told different stories. First, Vice Principal Wilson told the boy's mother that he had been showing off the leaf on the bus on the way to school.
Then, she said, "he told me [her son] had been seen in the bathroom with a marijuana leaf and lighter." Wilson later said that her son "had been seen in the classroom with a lighter and a leaf," and had been bragging about his family having "marijuana growing in our back yard and that his dad knew about it and didn’t care."
According to Wilson, the boy claimed to have "no idea" how the leaf got into his backpack. When his mother asked to see the leaf, she was allegedly told that "it’s already in evidence."
"We have never seen the leaf. He’s been out of school for six months," the boy's mother said.