Pubdate: Sat, 18 Feb 2012
Source: Gaston Gazette, The (NC)
Copyright: 2012 The Gaston Gazette


WAXHAW, N.C. - The family of a 13-year-old student kicked out of 
school for handing a friend a bag of oregano is considering a lawsuit 
if he's not immediately allowed back to school.

At the end of January, the eighth-grader at Cuthbertson Middle School 
handed a classmate a baggie of oregano and told him it was marijuana.

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 Thursday 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.

Eyewitness News reviewed the Union County Student Code of Conduct. 
Because the teen said he had marijuana and gave it away on school 
property, the district's policy mandates a minimum 10-day suspension. 
Then, a hearing is held to determine if the suspension should be extended.

When the school principal recommended an additional 45-day 
suspension, the teen's family appealed the decision. Cuthbertson's 
principal, assistant principal, several school board members, and an 
assistant superintendent were at the appeal hearing Thursday morning.

The boy's mother said the principal asked her how she would feel if 
the baggie really contained marijuana.

She said she replied, "That's beside the point. It was oregano."

Her appeal was denied.

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.

As it stands now, the teen won't be allowed back in Cuthbertson until March 29.

"If his records are not expunged, this will follow him around the 
rest of his life. He did not have a drug. He was joking around," Whitehead said.
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