Steamboat Springs School Board denies expulsion appeal

Advertisement

— The Steamboat Springs School Board last week upheld the decision to expel a 17-year-old girl suspected of possessing marijuana with the intent to sell.

The School Board met March 24 in executive session to consider an appeal related to a Jan. 29 incident that resulted in Superintendent Brad Meeks’ decision to expel the student. The incident launched an ongoing legal battle between the student and the district.

Meeks said Thursday that the Steamboat Springs School District could not discuss the case.

The district hired legal counsel to help it through the expulsion process. According to a public records request, the district has accrued $8,736.66 in legal costs associated with the case. The district has yet to be billed by the Boulder law firm Caplan and Earnest for representation at a 12-hour suspension hearing held March 4. The district also has not yet paid the hearing officer, former Moffat County Court Judge Mary Lynn James. Meeks said James charged a rate of $150 per hour.

Steamboat Springs attorneys Grant Bursek and Clark Davidson represented the student. Bursek said they took on the case for 1/50th of what they typically would charge because they believed in the girl and wanted to fight for her. In exchange, the student did volunteer work for the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.

“Someone needs to stand up for this kid,” Davidson said.

Bursek and Davidson thought the girl was not treated fairly.

“I don’t think the School Board is representing the true interests of the people here,” Davidson said.

Bursek and Davidson said the student, whose name is being withheld because she is a juvenile, has a 3.8 GPA and had not been in trouble at school before. They said the student had been identified as an at-risk youth by school officials. She comes from a broken home and currently lives with her aunt and uncle in Hayden.

Bursek and Davidson said Jan. 29 that their client was questioned by the high school’s campus supervisor, Dennis Hensen. They said Hensen questioned the student for 30 to 40 minutes because he thought she had been smoking marijuana across the street during lunch.

Bursek and Davidson said Hensen performed impairment tests on the student and determined she was not high, but the school then wanted to search a car that did not belong to the student. According to the school district policy, the school can interview students without the prior consent of parents or guardians, and cars can be searched if they have “reasonable grounds to suspect that the search will yield evidence of any illegal, unauthorized, unsafe or contraband materials.”

Inside the car, a total of 6 grams of marijuana in six baggies were found inside a box. After the marijuana was found, the student wanted a lawyer. Police were called, but the Routt County District Attorney’s Office did not file charges.

Bursek and Davidson said that during the expulsion hearing, four staff members testified that they had no reason to think the student was selling marijuana. The student contended the marijuana was packaged individually because that was the way she obtained it. She said she brought the marijuana with her to school because her aunt had been searching her room.

Going into the expulsion hearing, Davidson said he told his client they were going to lose.

“You’re basically going to the school administration and saying, ‘They’re rotten and they’re wrong,' and they’re just going to slap you down,” Davidson said.

According to Bursek and Davidson as well as the expulsion appeal decision obtained through a records request, the judge determined the student violated school district policy against possession of marijuana on school property.

“The conduct was serious, evidenced intent to sell, and raised the case to a level of discipline beyond suspension,” the determination documents states.

James did not recommend the student be expelled but rather that she be suspended until the day before graduation.

Meeks did not adopt James’ recommendation and chose to expel the student. Meeks said it was the first time the School Board had heard an expulsion appeal while he has been superintendent. He took the job in July 2011.

Bursek and Davidson contend the student was not selling marijuana, and she should have been suspended for five days, which they said is standard punishment for a student caught with marijuana. Meeks, who spoke generally about the school’s policies, said there is no set punishment outlined in the policies.

“It’s one of those things that you have to look at case by case,” Meeks said.

Bursek and Davidson said the student had several reasons for fighting the expulsion.

“She was concerned if she was expelled, it would greatly decrease her chances of getting into CU or Dartmouth,” Davidson said.

The attorneys said they will continue to fight for the student with goal of getting her back in school.

“School is really what she has,” Davidson said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

Join the Yampa Valley VIP email club

Yampa Valley VIP

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Grant Bursek's name.

Comments

Thomss Steele 6 months, 3 weeks ago

What the F-Ck is wrong with us? We show kids its legal and normal to use and sell this crap but when a kid scews up we throw the book at her and literally DESTROY her life. The school board needs replacing... Wake up folks!

5

Eric Morris 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Who would have guessed that government schools mixing with other government rules (regarding what supposedly free individuals put in their bodies) would lead to ... private attorneys getting all the benefits! I really like how the former government official that used to wear a silly robe gets the contract.

1

Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

This should not destroy her life. Multiple future Presidents were having more serious issues at this age.

This can be a defining moment inspiring her to move forward in any number of directions. She could write an article "Expelled over Six Grams of Pot" and seek to get it published in the CU or Dartmouth student newspapers. She can get a GED or a HS diploma from an online school, take a stack of courses from CMC and prove the school district wrong.

Pretty bizarre that a process involving a hearing which the presiding officer Mary Lynn James can make a decision that is then overridden by the school district. That is like a DA being able to reject the sentencing of a judge and deciding to impose a more severe sentence.

1

Tim Keenan 6 months, 3 weeks ago

That's awfully flimsy evidence that she had intent to sell. No way, no how should she be expelled if that's all they have.

6

Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

The independent hearing officer former judge James suggested a suspension until graduation which suggests there was more evidence than just six one gram bags found in a car.

Even there is strong evidence of intent to sell then she is still mostly guilty of stupidity. Pot usage is common and most students say they could get some within hours. The other students selling pot are just better drug dealers smart enough to not bring it onto school grounds.

Normally an expulsion is for the protection of other students and the school's staff. It is pretty hard to make the argument that even if she is guilty of everything claimed that she would be a threat to anyone else.

2

bill schurman 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Would the penalty be the same if a student possessed six small bottles of alcohol or more than one beer? I think not. Reefer Madness is alive and well.

4

jerry carlton 6 months, 3 weeks ago

And Bill is still stoned. She should be expelled if she had any alcohol or mmj on campus. Had to bring it to school because my Aunt was searching my room? Can not wait until I am 21 to get drunk or stoned? This will enhance her chances to get into CU or Darthmouth and if she does not make the cut CMC will welcome her. Over 50% of Americans approve MMJ and probably 75% of Americans approve alcohol, so how will this ruin her life? As Oz said, get a GED. Use this as a teachable moment and learn to follow a few of the rules in life. And like Bill Clinton, always claim you did not inhale.

Thank these two local lawyers for spending our tax dollars to defend against this.
Before it is over they will be wanting the taxpayers to pay their bills. Money that could have gone to educate your children.

0

Robert Chase 6 months, 3 weeks ago

If Steamboat Springs is so stupid as to support your anti-cannabis jihad, then it will be wasting far more money than that -- in fact, it is wasting far more money than that because of the fear of cannabis projected by your ilk.

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 3 weeks ago

This story is beyond disturbing. What a blatant abuse of power by the superintendent and what the hey happened to the school board?? What was the point of spending many thousands of dollars for a "12-hour suspension hearing" with a hired judge if Meeks is only going to throw out her recommendation and expel the girl anyway?

4

Ken Mauldin 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I think Bill makes a good point: Would a six-pack of beer have represented an 'intent to distribute' alcohol and warrant a more severe punishment than had she possessed a single can of beer?

1

Robert Chase 6 months, 3 weeks ago

No, because the authors and arbiters of the District's idiotic policies are dim hypocrites.

0

Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Or, since tobacco is also not allowed, would a student with a pack of cigarettes that "distributes" cigarettes to other students also be expelled?

2

Robert Chase 6 months, 3 weeks ago

If there were an iota of sense in the District's policies on drugs, possessing enough of a deadly and extremely addictive drug to distribute to others would carry at least as great a penalty as possessing enough of an essentially innocuous drug to distribute to others -- I think we may infer both that the answer to your question is "no" and that there is not an iota of sense in the District's policies on drugs. In that tobacco kills ~435,000 Americans every year, and that many of them acquire the addiction which eventually killed them in or near their schools, while no mortality can be attributed to cannabis, all the angst expressed here by parents and others is totally misdirected. Anyone genuinely concerned for teenagers' health does not waste time wringing their hands over cannabis -- tobacco is an infinitely more baleful threat!

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Maybe what's 'more to the story' is that the superintendent really dislikes the new pot law and was waiting for a chance to crucify the first kid who screwed up and make an example of them. It makes no sense that they would push so hard for expulsion for a kid who hadn't been in trouble before, had a 3.8 gpa, with seemingly no resources to defend herself.

2

Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

There is "more to the story" because the independent hearing officer proposed punishment was just short of expulsion, her lawyer's believed in her enough to work for nearly free and the superintendent rejected the hearing officer's proposed punishment.

There truly seems no point to have an "independent hearing" when neither the superintendent or the school board must accept it's ruling.

Seems to me that there are two lessons from this episode.

1) If you have drugs in your car then don't park in the school's parking lot. They can search with no justification and use what they find.

2) No point in appealing a suspension or expulsion since the superintendent can overrule the results of the independent hearing.

Life lesson for the 17 year old should be to move on. To treat it like a car accident or any other unexpected obstacle that has to be overcome.

1

jerry carlton 6 months, 3 weeks ago

And maybe the next student that decides to bring pot or alcohol on campus will think twice. Probably not though since many teenagers think they are bulletproof.

0

Ken Mauldin 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Kid's are pretty savvy and here's what I suspect the students will learn from this encounter:
1. NEVER have multiple containers of weed. ALWAYS keep it all together in one container.
2. If caught breaking any rules, the school board owns you and any appearance of due process will be for strictly for show.

4

Harvey Lyon 6 months, 3 weeks ago

You know.....I really wished at least one of you jokers recognized the fact that ME and MOST parents are absolutely not interested in drugs on campus let alone folks selling drugs on campus.

I desire HS to be a drug free zone and I'll let my elected officials and their hired employees to make the decisions to assure that.

Seems like the girl, regardless of her intelligence and GPA, planned on selling MJ to fellow HS students....on campus.

If so....she deserves to get burned....using her intelligence to sway others.

I'm all for the School Borad's decision.

Harv Lyon

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 3 weeks ago

She was already going to 'get burned'...even if they had followed the judge's recommendation she would be suspended until the day before graduation. But "Meeks did not adopt James’ recommendation and chose to expel the student."

2

Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Harvey,

I am not happy that drugs are on campus. But it is silly to suggest that the high school kids are drug free until this girl introduced pot.

The school district's own survey shows that a sizable number of high school students use pot and that a much larger number say they could get some pot within hours. If school officials had searched every student's car in the parking lot that day then how many other cars would they have found something? Certainly several and probably at least a couple dozen.

But one girl not savvy enough to play the game gets caught with a half dozen one gram bags and they throw the book at her. If the pot in the car had been one six gram bag then she probably gets a 5 day suspension since then it becomes personal use and they don't accuse her of being a dealer. If she had thought she had a consequential amount of pot in the car and doesn't park in the high school parking lot then there isn't even a suspension.

2

Fred Duckels 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm paying big taxes for the schools and I expect zero tolerance for both drugs and alcohol and if the powers that be up there don't stand their ground I will certainly be unhappy.

0

Fred Duckels 6 months, 3 weeks ago

There was only one decision that could be made.

0

Robert Chase 6 months, 3 weeks ago

"... the school then wanted to search a car that did not belong to the student. According to the school district policy, ... cars can be searched ..." - oh yes? According to the Constitution, they cannot. Where was this car? Was the student in possession of it? In any event, a warrantless search without the consent of her guardians was wrong, and the existence of such a blatantly illegal and contemptible policy, an excellent reason to replace the School Board, the administrators of the District, and its policies. I really wish one of you jokers had a clue about American values.

0

Deana Damiano 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Lesson learned? Taxes? Attorney fee? Job accountability? Parents accountability? This could of been resolved almost two months ago...Taulman@sssd.k12.co.us. I am the parent and one of wishes would be that all children, especially teenagers were perfect. I also wish there were more options to be solution oriented rather than using one consequence. Kids and adults need to learn about the cultural shift that is happening in Colorado...in schools and beyond...where did that DARE program go? Supprt the School Board if you would rather pay the superintendents attorneys fees rather than education towards effects of marijuana on children.

1

Robert Chase 6 months, 3 weeks ago

"Where did that DARE program go?" -- seriously? If telling your kids that you do not want them to use cannabis and that it hampers learning is not enough, then they may end up using cannabis. As for telling them a bunch of transparently preposterous lies, that will only scare off the dumbest and intrigue the rest, but have at it: maybe you can revive DARE locally.

0

rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

What a hypocrisy, a mockery of justice... it's a safe bet a good percentage of the faculty at that school indulges in cannabis regularly.

To suggest that it impairs learning ability is equally ludicrous; that tripe was first perpetrated by an ignorant and paranoid alcohol lobby, quite successfully, back in the '30's.

This student's GPA alone debunks that theory.

The THC molecule occurs in a wide variety of configurations, each affecting synapses in its own unique way, and each individual perceives things differently than the next.

The highway death toll has gone DOWN since mmj was legalized. Several studies have documented BETTER driving performance under cannabis' influence, starting with Nixon's. This in addition to the many proven medical benefits, and promising new applications in neurology.

"Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do."

0

Robert Chase 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Cannabis can impede the formation of short-term memories and thus slow learning -- there is no evidence that it lowers adolescents' IQ, but it is perfectly reasonable to try to exclude it from schools. Parents have legal responsibility for their minor children and varying degrees of desire to exercise control over their lives, but most would prefer they not use drugs, even ones so benign as cannabis -- witness the several worried, reactionary responses above. School officials went too far and the District overreacted, but you too are reaching a little too far -- cannabis is not a significant threat to health or to learning, but you might expect parents to object to their children using it nonetheless.

1

Pat West 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Rhys, it is stil illegal for minors, and it wasn't one bag, but six small bags. Circumstantial evidence of "dealing" for sure, but I've heard that the School board may have not had a choice in this decision, and that once she was charged with intent, their hands were tied by procedure. The pilot didn't publish what choices the school board had for her punishment, or if the judgement from this hearing could have been accepted. What seems harsh and heavy handed may just be a result of polices out of the control of the board, or superintendent. The Board, and Superintendent can talk about their side of this due to confidentality laws, I wonder what they would say if they could.

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Sorry, but that's a bit of a stretch that this expulsion could just be a result of "policies out of control of the board or superintendent." If so, then why spend all the money on the 12-hour hearing and pay the judge from Craig to make a recommendation? And why go through the whole appeal to the school board. This is not a totalitarian state; hearings and appeals are not supposed to be just for show and school board members are not robots. Saying their 'hands were tied by procedure' is a poor excuse. According to the article, the district attorney's office did not even file charges. And if they don't have absolute proof of her selling, then they certainly have a choice in what her punishment should be.

3

Pat West 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I do not know school policy or the extent of their appeal process. Maybe the Pilot could look into the process, the penalties and how the School Board came to their decision. Speculation isn't helping. Too many unasked, and unanswered questions.

1

Liz Cecil 6 months, 3 weeks ago

There's a lot of solid research indicating that both marijuana and alcohol are harmful to the developing teenage brain and actually change its structure. It's not okay and it's an entirely different thing for teens compared to adults because the teenage brain is still under construction.
So as much as I dislike the way this case was handled, I'm not one who thinks pot and alcohol are no big deal. This case was just handled badly with seemingly no attempt at any kind of "restorative justice" which might have actually helped anyone.

0

Liz Cecil 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Zoey, just saw your comment...if the high school sent CU notice of her suspension at that point I believe that may have been illegal, depending on what they said. Will have to look it up..

0

Zoey Costin 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I know its kind of being looked into, but Taulman just says he knew nothing of the incident and that he is "looking into it immediately" and denies any involvement. Its hard to prove legally that the school is sabotaging this girls admission to her first choice at University of Colorado Boulder.

0

jerry carlton 6 months, 2 weeks ago

What makes you think CU Boulder will reject her for this? From what I have seen on TV news Boulder loves pot users.

0

Deana Damiano 6 months ago

Email from 2/19/14

Dear Mr. Meeks, I have been waiting patiently for you to make a decision about my daughter, get back into school immediately.

I feel that you are setting her up for failure.

How can you show me that you are doing all that you can to give my daughter an education?

Please call me as soon as possible.

I am taking a flight tonight and will be in Steamboat on Friday. I would love to meet with you personally. Should I bring my lawyer?

I am currently in Hawaii working as an R.N. I came to Hawaii in July 2013 for a nursing job. I was intending to return by Oct or Dec. 2013

I have lived in Steamboat for over 21 years and call Steamboat home. The community is my family and have helped me raise my children with solid integrity and strong values. I had moved to Grand Junction in 2011 for work and away from a hostile environment from my divorce. My ex-husband has little to no contact with her, who still lives in Steamboat.

School has been the only constant in her life. It is the only thing she can control. It is the only thing that makes her believe in herself. She has maintained all A's & B's, with a 3.8 average despite her many setbacks. She has applications out to CU, DU and Dartmouth (her grandfather's alma mater). She is involved in Lacrosse which has also been one of her only solid avenues for support and encouragement.

She has endured a hateful divorce and rejection from her father since she was eight. She has had three heart surgeries from 10 months old to age thirteen. She struggles socially as she is immature , young and small for her class. I was encouraged to start her in school at a young age as recommended by John Devincentis, back in the day.

She is currently in counseling with Shelby DeWolf and Jen Trimurti. Shelby stating her extensive need for guidance and treatment, issues of depression, maladaptive coping patterns, black and white thinking and unrealistic expectations of herself, overwhelmed, feelings of hopelessness, desperation, need for more family support, unresolved conflict with parents which make her feel more isolated and overwhelmed.

I am pleading for mercy that she can learn from the consequences without taking away her education. She has independently taken a drug test and has an appointment psychiatric evaluation recommended by our PCP from YVMA

I plead to let her finish high school with all the pressures and consequences that she will learn from this incident and hope she can endure her focus and remain true to herself and her goal to graduate high school, attend a college university and to lead a respectful honest life. We all need to believe in our children. Please don't give up on her. I believe in her and I want you to give her a chance to show you that she will not let you down. She has the ability to overcome adversity and make us all proud. I beg for your compassion, humanity and benevolence.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.