BEDFORD, Va. — The family of an 11-year-old Virginia boy is still fighting to clear their son’s name months after he was suspended for a crime evidence showed he did not commit.
Officials at Bedford Middle School began investigating the sixth grader, part of the gifted and talented program, in September of 2014, the Roanoke Times reported.
Students allegedly told a teacher that the boy was bragging about having marijuana, and said that his parents grew the drug in their back yard. Administrators searched the boy’s bag and, sure enough, found a crumpled leaf and a lighter.
From there, the situation turned murky. The boy’s parents, Bruce and Linda Bays, were called to the school and told what had happened. They argued that they did not grow pot, and their son told all of the adults that he had no idea where the leaf came from — he said he had been pranked. Administrators suspended the boy pending a full hearing, but one thing struck the parents as odd:
“I asked, ‘Can I see the leaf?’ and the deputy said, ‘No, it’s already in evidence,’ ” Linda Bays told the newspaper. “We have never seen the leaf.”
At the hearing, the Bays learned that the school resource officer, Bedford County Sheriff’s Deputy M.M. Calohan, had filed a drug possession charge against their son and that the district was pushing to expel him. But after a protracted process, the Bays learned the truth:
Repeated tests had found that the leaf was not actually marijuana.
In the end, the criminal charge was dropped but the boy was still expelled for 364 days for “drug possession” despite the tests, the newspaper reported. The boy was forced into a program for remedial and troubled students, where, his parents claim, he has changed from an honors student into a disturbed child.
“He just broke down and said his life was over,” Linda Bays said of the 11-year-old. “He (said he) would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job.”
Eventually, after the boy’s doctor contacted the district, officials have agreed to allow him to rejoin his class this week — but only under zero-tolerance probation.
The boy’s parents — both are schoolteachers — have filed a federal lawsuit against Bedford County Schools and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, alleging that Assistant Principal Brian Wilson and school operations chief Frederick “Mac” Duis violated the boy’s due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.
It also accuses the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office of malicious prosecution, because Deputy Calohan filed marijuana possession charges against the boy despite field tests showing there was no real pot involved.
The defendants’ attorney said the lawsuit has no merit, telling the Roanoke Times that it doesn’t matter whether the leaf really was pot — as long as school officials believed that it was a drug, they were entitled to follow through on the punitive action, he said.