Steamboat Springs It’s been nearly two weeks since a 17-year-old Steamboat Springs High School student’s expulsion appeal was denied by the Steamboat Springs School Board, and district policies, which are public record, provide some insight into what transpired during the process throughout the past two months.
Find the Steamboat Springs School District's list of policies here.
The district, however, still remains quiet about details of the case.
The student’s attorneys provided one account, saying Jan. 29 that the student was questioned by the high school’s campus supervisor, Dennis Hensen, who thought she had been smoking marijuana across the street during lunch.
The student’s attorneys, Grant Bursek and Clark Davidson, said Hensen questioned their client for 30 to 40 minutes before performing impairment tests that determined she was not high. The school searched a car, which did not belong to the student, and found six individually wrapped baggies of marijuana that totaled 6 grams inside a box.
Superintendent Brad Meeks made the decision to expel the student for suspected possession of marijuana with the intent to sell after an expulsion hearing that ended with hearing officer and former Moffat County Court Judge Mary Lynn James recommending that Meeks suspend the student until the day before graduation.
The student appealed Meeks’ decision, and the School Board then denied her appeal March 24.
Administrative policy S-12, which guides student conduct and discipline, states that the district superintendent is in charge of ensuring the conduct code is distributed once to each student in elementary, middle and high school as well as new students.
The policy also states it is the superintendent’s responsibility to make sure students are familiar with the code and that any “significant changes in code are to be distributed to students/parents and posted in each school.”
The student who was expelled was questioned by Hensen without a parent or guardian present. Under Policy S-18, school personnel may interview students without prior consent of the student’s parent or guardian in accordance with state law.
Policy S-20 on student vehicles and parking lot searches specifies that cars parked on campus can be searched without prior student or parental consent if district officials have “reasonable grounds to suspect that the search will yield evidence of any illegal, unauthorized, unsafe or contraband materials.”
The policy also states, “However, the parent/guardian of any student searched shall be notified of the search as soon as reasonably possible.”
According to district policy, students are to accompany those searching a vehicle and may be asked to grant access to specific areas. But policy also states, “if the student cannot or will not provide access to his or her vehicle, school personnel may still conduct a search.”
Students who refuse search of their vehicles parked on school grounds face termination of privileges of bringing cars onto campus. This action, as outlined in S-20, also could result in disciplinary action and law enforcement notification.
Policy S-18, which outlines the district’s interviews and searches policy, states school personnel may interview students without prior parental or guardian consent but doesn’t cite potential discipline for students who refuse to speak until a parent arrives.
Policy does state that the nature and extent of questioning must be “reasonably related to the objectives of the questioning,” and the student will have an opportunity to provide his or her account of the story, either orally or in writing, and can deny involvement or guilt.
According to the expelled student’s attorneys, she answered Hensen’s questions but requested a lawyer once the bags of marijuana were found.
School policy puts marijuana under its controlled substances offenses policy. The student vehicles and parking lot searches code cites “reasonable suspicion” as grounds to search a vehicle if a reliable informant to school personnel provided enough information “to believe that a search would lead to the discovery of evidence of a violation of district policy.”
District policy gives school principals the power to suspend a student for five to 10 days. The superintendent also has the power to suspend a student for an additional period of time not to exceed 25 days.
In the case of expulsion, a hearing is held.
Meeks was contacted for information pertaining to the district’s discipline policies, but he declined to comment. He also said the school district could not discuss the student’s expulsion.
“I want to withhold comment until after the board meeting Monday night,” Meeks said Friday evening.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll