Last fall, a sixth-grader in Virginia was suspended for 364 days and charged with possession of an illicit drug, punishment for violating his school's drug policy. His crime? Having a leaf in his backpack that looked like, but conclusively wasn't, marijuana.
According to the boy's parents, the trouble began last September when officials at Bedford Middle School searched their 11-year-old son's bag based on a tip from other students. Inside, they found a lighter and the offending foliage, a single crumpled leaf.
Their son was soon suspended for "possession of marijuana," a charge he also faced in juvenile court. However, when the boy's court date finally came in November, his parents learned the leaf had tested negative for marijuana three separate times.
"The field test came back not inconclusive, but negative," the parents' lawyer told The Roanoke Times. "Yet [the school's police officer] went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school."
The court charge was then dropped, but the boy's suspension remained, the school's operations chief reportedly saying, "The court system and the school system were two different entities."
According to the school board's attorney, the school's anti-drug policy treats possession of real drugs and "imitation" drugs—such as a cannabis-like Japanese maple leaf—the same, tellingThe Roanoke Times, "It's the same punishment and exactly the same result."
In the meantime, the boy's parents have filed a lawsuit for malicious prosecution and violation of due process, seeking unspecified damages. "We intend to see what a jury would say about that," the parents' attorney said.