The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Steve Coleman, the father of a female student who attends Woodford County High School (WCHS) in Lexington Kentucky, has filed suit in federal district court against Woodford County School District (WCSD) challenging the school district’s decision to assign her to an alternative school for violating the district’s drug policy. The student, identified as K.C., purchased one Vyvanse pill from a classmate, but never ingested the pill. Vyvanse is a medication prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The suit seeks injunctive relief, damages and attorney fees.
WCHS stripped her of her position as senior class president and assigned her to WCSD’s alternative school, Safe Harbor. The suit claims that being assigned to an alternative school amounts to an “illegal expulsion” and that the punishment imposed on her “is arbitrary and not rationally related to the offense charged against” her.
The district court denied Coleman’s motion for a temporary restraining order that would have required WCSD to readmit K.C. to WCHS. In addition to stripping K.C. of her position as senior class president, she was banned from the high school campus, prohibited from participating in any school-related activities, and was permanently removed from the cross-country team.
At issue is an incident that occurred in early September when K.C. discussed her anxiety about the ACT exam, scheduled for Sept. 13, with a classmate. The classmate told her that he had a prescription for Vyvanse. The classmate said he thought it would relieve her anxiety and help her focus if she took it before the exam. The classmate told K.C. that he would sell the pill to her for $5.
The suit claims that K.C. was “unaware that obtaining a prescription pill was impermissible” at the time she purchased the pill from her classmate. “If there was a concern about it being inappropriate or illegal on her part, she wouldn’t have obtained it in front of 25 or 30 other students and a teacher,” said her attorney, T. Bruce Simpson Jr. “The fact that it was in an open classroom reflects, at least in my judgment and her mind at the time, that there wasn’t anything illegal at the time,” he said.
Later that day, WCHS Assistant Principal Jennifer Forgy entered K.C.’s classroom and, in front of other students, instructed K.C. to gather her belongings and accompany her to the principal’s office. The suit indicates that Forgy refused to tell K.C. why she was being detained, and “K.C. was unaware of the basis for her removal from class.”
Without explaining why she was called to the office, WCHS Principal, Rob Akers, asked K.C. if she had “paid another student for something.” When K.C. did not immediately divulge that she had purchased the pill, Akers directed an enforcement officer to search her. After realizing what Akers was referring to, K.C. acknowledged that she had purchased a pill from another student. K.C. voluntarily handed the pill to Akers. He informed her that a “witness” had “turned her in.”
The suit alleges that Akers and Forgy did not perform further investigation or questioning. It states that “[w]ithout giving K.C. an opportunity for a hearing or to offer any mitigating reasons for her conduct, defendants levied the following punishment: a five-day suspension (reduced to 21/2 days if K.C. enrolled in and completed a drug treatment therapy); 30 school days of placement in alternative school; a complete ban (except for after-school communications with teachers) from campus and all school-related activities, including all extracurricular clubs and sporting events, and homecoming activities; permanent removal from her position as senior class president; permanent removal from the cross-country team and [a] temporary ban from the softball team.”
According to the suit, after K.C.’s father arrived, Akers and Forgy presented K.C. with a “discipline/suspension report” and instructed her to sign it, without explaining what it was. In addition, the suit alleges that “[t]he bottom portion of that sheet, which now contains an explanation of the terms of her suspension and punishment, was blank at the time it was presented to and signed by K.C. Upon information and belief, that portion was completed some time after K.C. left.”
After leaving the school, Coleman took K.C. to a certified drug-screening facility in Lexington to perform a nine-panel drug screen. The suit indicates that “[t]he results of the drug screen came back completely negative for the presence of any drugs.”
The suit contends that there is no basis in applicable code or policy that provides for or enables a 30-day mandatory enrollment in the alternative school. However, in an affidavit, WCSD’s Superintendent, Scott Hawkins, refutes that allegation saying that four other students (and a fifth in a pending case) were assigned to 30-day stays in the alternative program after they were cited for drug offenses.
The suit indicates that because of a “deficient learning environment” and lack of instruction available to her at the alternative school, K.C. could not adequately prepare for exams.
In addition to being senior class president, K.C. was a member of the National Honor Society, and served on the student newspaper and in DECA. She regularly volunteers at the Woodford County Clothing Bank, the Woodford County Library and Huntertown Elementary School. She was also enrolled in five advanced placement classes and had no prior criminal record or prior disciplinary history at the high school.
The suit also indicates that the school was aware of her history of anxiety.
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader, 9/30/14, By Greg Kocher
[Editor's Note: In August 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Portsmouth Daily Times which reported that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (NCASA), at Columbia University, had issued its annual survey, “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens.” In the survey, NCASA reported that nearly nine out of 10 high school students, 86% of those surveyed, said that some classmates drank, used drugs, and smoked during the school day. The results of the survey were garnered asking questions of 1,003 teens, including 510 girls and 493 boys ages 12-17 years old.]