Parents of a 17-year-old high school senior with Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and various anxiety disorders are suing the Temecula Valley Unified School District for trying to expel him after he was busted by an undercover cop for selling the officer a couple of marijuana joints.
The boy was scooped up in December when 21 other students were busted in a campus sting at Chaparral and Temecula high schools. But once a judge got a look at the particulars, he acknowledged the special circumstances and ruled that the son of Doug and Catherine Snodgrass could get by with informal probation and 20 hours of public service to avoid a guilty verdict. According to the Snodgrasses, the district knew that a special needs student was being targeted.
That didn’t stop the district from continuing to pursue expulsion.
By all accounts, the autistic student is not a drug dealer. His crimes, according to his parents, were being friendless and gullible.
The boy, whose name has not been made public, was excited when a new kid in school began showing special interest in him last fall, according to his parents. The new student constantly texted him and within a short time was asking the boy if he could obtain marijuana or prescription drugs.
The kid somehow scrounged up a joint and a half, reportedly from a homeless person, using $20 given to him by his new friend. A short time later he was busted in class, cuffed, interrogated and held in detention for two days without parental or legal contact.
The school district suspended him for 10 days and threatened expulsion. In March, Administrative Law Judge Marian H. Tully blocked the expulsion, and had some harsh words for the district. “The evidence showed that at the time of the marijuana incidents, (the student) was struggling socially, was anxious, and was demonstrating poor judgment during the transition to a new campus, all of which were related to his autism spectrum disorder,” Tully wrote in her decision. The district had left him “to fend for himself, anxious and alone, against an undercover police officer.”
The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that an attorney representing the school district, Sarah Southerland, defended its actions, characterizing the boy as high-functioning, doing well in school and aware of the difference between right and wrong.
In the meantime, the student has fallen behind in his studies, reverted to old self-destructive behavior—he burned himself with a lighter, according to his parents—and won’t graduate on time.
The parents filed a claim against the school district in April for unspecified damages, saying it should have protected their son, rather than pursue a punitive course of action.