A sixth grade Virginia elementary student was suspended last year for 364 days after school officials caught him in possession of what they believed to be the leaf from a cannabis plant. Yet, even after several tests revealed the leaf was nothing related to marijuana, school administrators still refused to allow the 11-year-old to come back to class, which his parents say has caused him to suffer a great amount of psychological distress and forced him into treatment for severe depression and panic attacks.
Last September, Bruce and Linda Bays received a call from officials with Bedford Middle Schools, where their son was enrolled in the gifted and talented program, claiming their son, who has only been identified as R.M.B., had been caught in possession of a marijuana leaf. Apparently, three separate witnesses had come forward with information that R.M.B. had the pot leaf stashed in his backpack and that he had shown it off several times throughout the course of the day. A leaf and a lighter were discovered later in the boy’s possession.
As you can probably imagine, the incident stirred up quite a bit of controversy inside the small VA community. The school suspended R.M.B from class for nearly a year, while the sheriff’s department filed charges against him for possession of marijuana – it was undoubtedly one of the worst days the Bays family had ever endured.
Interestingly, however, several months after their son had been cast out of the classroom and made the pariah of the playground, the Bays received word that the pot leaf in question was not marijuana. In fact, the local prosecutor had no choice but to dismiss the charges against the boy because at least three tests on the leaf delivered negative results. Yet, school officials would not allow R.M.B. to come to class.
The Bays have since filed a federal lawsuit against Bedford County Schools as well as the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department asserting that R.M.B.’s right to due process was violated in this case because he was kicked out of school and had even been the subject of a criminal investigation over a matter that could not be proven. Attorney Melvin Williams, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Bays family, told The Roanoke Times that the school resource officer “swore” that R.M.B. was in possession of marijuana, yet “the field test came back not inconclusive, but negative,” he said.
Yet, rather than attempt to settle this case with some level of dignity and class, Bedford Middle School Assistant Principal Brian Wilson, who found the leaf in R.M.B.’s bag, and Bedford Sheriff Mike Brown have lawyered up in an attempt to sell the court on the idea that a student is subject to disciplinary action even if he or she attempts to pass off a maple leaf for marijuana. It is for that reason that their attorney, Jim Guynn, has moved to have the federal lawsuit dismissed, citing zero-tolerance means zero-tolerance in the Virginia educational system.
Yet, while these two authority figures try to weasel their way out of their incompetence, the Bays family claims their son has been transformed from a fun-loving, active, and outgoing 11-year-old to a socially withdrawn product of a witch hunt. R.M.B. now regularly sees a pediatric psychiatrist to help cope with panic disorders and depression.
Perhaps one of the most unusual circumstances in this case is that no one seems to know exactly what kind of leaf R.M.B. had in his possession. His parents, who are both teachers by trade, have not been able to identify the leaf simply because authorities have refused to show it to them.
However, I might be able to offer some insight into the vagueness surrounding this mystery foliage.
[Author’s Note: Last year, I stumbled onto a leaf outside my home in Southern Indiana that, at first glance, appeared to have come from a cannabis plant. A quick Google search revealed the leaf had likely fallen from the Japanese maple growing in a neighbors yard.]
While it remains uncertain why Bedford County officials would continue to try to wreck the life of a youngster for bringing to school something that was disproved as marijuana, our hope is that U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon will soon side with common sense and legalize Japanese maple leafs in the Virginia school system once more.