Steamboat School District policy outlines expulsion process

Advertisement

— 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.

For more

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

Comments

Mark Ruckman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Maybe the school administration can also share the outcome of similar cases where a student was caught on campus with alcohol, MJ or other drugs.

0

jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I am sure they can if they want a bunch of law suits from local attorneys over privacy issues.

0

Scott Wedel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The policy as stated in the article appears to state that expulsion process requires a hearing. But not that the ruling by the hearing officer/judge is binding. So once the hearing is over then apparently the Superintendent is free to expel regardless of what was determined in the hearing.

1

Liz Cecil 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes and how dumb is that to spend $20,000 or whatever it was on the hearing so that the all-too-powerful superintendent can ignore it and do whatever he wants? This article doesnt add much of interest to the discussion except for the fact that a student cannot be suspended for more than 25 days and yet this girl has been out of school for over two months. Oops, you guys didn't follow your rules. She obviously needed a lawyer.

1

Liz Cecil 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The main point seems to still be that the punishment does not fit the crime. Not to mention the punishment helps no one. Is the SSSD aware that there are people who spend their careers working with these kinds of issues and the most effective ways to "punish" these kids? Guess what - taking school away for a long time and isolating the guilty child is exactly what is not recommended - for the perpetrator or the other kids. Especially on a 1st offense! The school board needs to do its job, do some research, and not just hand this off to a super who is going with what - his gut instincts that say grind this kid into the ground and make an example of her? And for those watching silently, what if you get a big surprise and one of your kids gets in trouble someday? Is this how you would want it handled?

2

Ken Collins 6 months, 2 weeks ago

How did this travesty occur? Supervisor Hensen questioned the student for 30-40 minutes and conducted an impairment test. First of all, is he trained for such a test? If not, how can he make any decision? If so, and she passed, then where the H--- is the "reasonable grounds to suspect that the search will yield evidence of any illegal...materials"? Whatever happened to "probable cause"? And it wasn't even her car. Further, Superintendent Meeks makes a huge leap of judgment in assuming there was "intent to sell". Six grams is not much marijuana. And where is the evidence of buyers? Has anyone come forward saying they were approached by the girl trying to sell? Has she been selling in the past? Did she have a large amount of cash on her person or in the car? Where is the evidence of intent? Is Meeks the Drug Czar of Routt County? Has he gone through any DEA classes? Where are his credentials to make such a life-changing decision for a young student? Especially when the Judge recommended suspension. Meeks has decided his power is more important than her future. In a lot of peoples' opinions, maybe it is Meeks that should be expelled.

2

rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I guess the operative term is "unauthorized" and when Meeks defied the hearing officer's recommendations, thereby abusing his authority, he had no precedent to go by, school policies in opposition to State law and the Constitution as a guide, and a shaky case at best. I hope this entertains us for months or years to come.

1

rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Don't let him pull an end-around either, by saying it wasn't malicious -- the evidence says otherwise.

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope her lawyers have the appetite for pursuing it all the way. My prediction, hope I'm wrong: Meeks and/or school board come out with statement implying article was wrong, there's 'evidence' we don't know about, their hands are tied, but they 'can't discuss it.' Egos are too big, they think they will lose face, they're annoyed with lawyers and newspaper, so they dig their heels in, refuse to reverse course. Who loses the most? The accused student. Adults thinking mainly of themselves, not her. Democratic system of checks and balances not working because Board won't check Putin, I mean Meeks.

2

rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Attorneys on both sides will make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, after the appeals are over, hopefully this student too, as her life has already been irreparably damaged, and the only losers will be us, the taxpayers. We'll pay 'em all. We're ducks in a pond.

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Her attorneys said they were working on this mostly pro bono.

0

mark hartless 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Shouldn't there be a limit to the "pro-bono" legal donations??

0

rhys jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Liz -- While that is heartening, the State will still pay their own attorneys, the student's attorneys (they should bill more) and the young lady herself. That means you and I pay. I hope heads roll, when the smoke has cleared.

0

mark hartless 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Ken,

What Meeks did to this student is no different than what the EPA, IRS, NSA and many other government agencies do to your fellow citizens every day. Yet you cheer those agencies on and beg us all to empower them further.

1

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.