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Northumberland High School Seniors expelled despite lack of criminal evidence

Posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Last Monday night, Northumberland County’s school board proved it isn’t fooling around when it comes to weapons and drugs on school property.

Members voted 4-0 to expel two seniors who had such minuscule amounts of marijuana in the cars they drove to school that Commonwealths Attorney Jane Wrightson and Sheriff C.A. Wilkins said there wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the two boys. (School Board member Dean Sumner was not at the meeting.)

The marijuana was found after a drug dog alerted on the two cars in the high school parking lot. One car had a tiny quantity of what a field test showed to be marijuana in the mat on the passenger’s side of the car. In the second car, a pipe was found that had some sort of burned residue in it, which was not tested. In addition to the pipe, a Daisy BB pistol was found in the car.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rebecca Gates said that neither of the two boys admitted knowing the materials were in the cars and that people other than they had access to the vehicles. Even so, she said the boys had driven the cars to school and there was enough evidence of marijuana to satisfy the school board that it was present. Gates said that it wasn’t necessary that the boys actually know marijuana was present for sanctions to be imposed on them.

The driver of the car with the untested pipe in it had himself tested for marijuana and the test, which will detect marijuana use up to 30 days after exposure to it, came back negative. The auto also had the BB pistol in it and that constituted a weapon under the schools’ policy, Gates said.

Gates noted that while the two students were expelled from the high school they will be allowed to continue their classes in the alternative education program located at the vocational center in Warsaw. Assuming they have passed the required courses, they will graduate on time, she said.

Gates said that allowing them to continue rather than lose an entire year is a policy change that she advocated after becoming superintendent and which the School Board adopted.

Supervisor James Long, who was familiar with the matter and said he was not pleased with it said that the students being allowed to continue in the alternative program was a “good thing.”

(Note: The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case in which the reliability of drug dogs to provide probable cause for searches is questioned on Feb. 19. The case is Florida vs. Harris.)

In other business during the school board’s public meeting, Gates announced that her proposed budget for the coming fiscal year will include a three per cent pay increase for everybody employed by the school system plus an additional two per cent increase to make up for the recently re-imposed social security withholdings. In response to the economic difficulties in 2009 the federal government had given taxpayers a “holiday” regarding part of their social security taxes but it has now ended the holiday.

Gates will present her proposed budget at a public hearing Feb. 25. The School Board has invited the Board of Supervisors to join it for the session, which will start at 6 p.m. at the school board office in Lottsburg.