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.
The student, the 11-year-old son of two school teachers, had to enroll 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. In the months since September, he’s become withdrawn, depressed, and he suffers from panic attacks. He is worried his life is over, according to his mother, and that he will never get into college.
The only problem? The “leaf” found in the student’s backpack wasn’t what authorities thought it was — it tested negative for marijuana three separate times.
All of this is laid out in detail by Dan Casey in a column in the Roanoke Times today. While the juvenile court dropped its case against the student after the tests turned up negative, the school system, in a community located midway between Roanoke and Lynchburg, has been far less forgiving. That’s because stringent anti-drug policies in school districts in Virginia and elsewhere consider “imitation” drugs to be identical to real ones for disciplinary purposes.
Depriving a student of an education for a year does have a long-lasting, harmful effect. It has better be done over something extremely important. Most codes of behavior within the state speak of placebos–look-alike pills. A leaf is not a pill.
Kids act silly about things that are forbidden. So do adults. I have continually joked that the Prince William County seal looks like it honors the marijuana plant even though I clearly know it does not.
So what if the kid said his maple leaf was “marijuana.” Where is the harm? I could even understand if the kid were hauled in and interrogated for an hour and his leaf sent off to some lab somewhere (maybe). I could understand if his parents were called. What I don’t understand is the kid being long-term suspended for a year after the leaf tested negative three different times.
The article in the Roanoke Times is has not been found. However, there is great coverage in some of the alternative newspapers. Inquistr.com covered the entire story as did several other periodicals.
What is the difference in Ahmed and “Johnny Maple Leaf” some might ask. The difference is the public safety as well as the degree of consequence. A real marijuana leaf doesn’t have the potential to detonate. Ahmed’s punishment lasted 3 days. Johnny’s lasted a year. Where is the outrage on behalf of Johnny Maple Leaf?
Disclosure: I have a similar tree in my yard.