UPDATE: Settling A Lawsuit With ACLU, Pinelands Regional School District Expunges Student's Record, Adjusts Drug Policy
New Jersey ACLU: “We hope this case serves as a lesson for all school districts.”
The Pinelands Regional School District in Little Egg Harbor revised its zero-tolerance drug policy and expunged the record of a middle-school student who was suspended after an allergy pill was discovered in his backpack, according to the New Jersey office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The action came as part of a settlement of the lawsuit with the ACLU on behalf of the student, according to the group's press release.
“We hope this case serves as a lesson for all school districts," the release said, quoting ACLU attorney, Frank Corrado of Barry, Corrado and Grassi, P.C.
According to Pinelands Regional Superintendent Robert Blake, a "slight change has been made in the policy," as a result of the settlement, but parents, teachers and educators still need to be aware of potential danger of over-the-counter medicine abuse."
The change "does not infringe upon the district's commitment to addressing and providing support for any student who may be using drugs or alcohol," Blake said, in a statement.
"Over-the-counter medicines can be abused, as well," Blake said. "Therefore, parents and educators need to be vigilant regarding their use by children. That is why our schools require that students take such medicines under adult supervision."
In his statement, Blake added that the decision to settle with the ACLU was dictated by financial considerations.
"This settlement was agreed to after full consideration of the potential monetary costs to the district for continuing to deliberate this case against the ACLU-NJ," Blake said.
Under New Jersey law, a school official cannot impose automatic discipline on a student without taking into account the age of the student, and his or her discipline history, as well as the severity of the offense, according to a press release from the ACLU.
"The only exceptions that would permit immediate suspension or expulsion are for offenses that involve firearms, assaults with weapons or assaults on employees," the release said.
The student was attending Pinelands Regional Middle School in 2008 and was on the honor roll, according to the organization, when a discovery of an allergy pill led to his suspension from school for five days, as well as his expulsion from the school honor society and a ban from participating in music activities.
The student is now a senior, getting ready to attend Stockton College, the release said. The New Jersey ACLU did not reveal which school the student is attending, as part of protecting the young man's privacy, the organization's spokeswoman Katie Wang said.
An official from the Pinelands Regional District who wished to remain anonymous said the schools often review and change their policies anyway, to keep up with laws and changing technology.
As far as the students' records, those are expunged after five years anyway, and are only available to parents, the student and the schools administration, unless a judge asks for the record in a subpoena, the official said.