Northmont’s school board unanimously upheld the marijuana-related suspension of a high school student Wednesday, after a two-hour appeal hearing where the student, his mother and school officials offered conflicting testimony.
Northmont sophomore Jordan Evans was suspended Jan. 22 under a school code of conduct provision that says, “No student shall come to school … with the smell of alcohol/marijuana on his/her breath/person.”
Multiple school officials testified that Evans smelled significantly of marijuana that morning, saying half a dozen teachers administrators and school resource officers agreed.
Evans testified that he doesn’t smoke marijuana, either that morning or at all. Evans’ mother, Katina Cottrell, cited results of a marijuana urine test administered that same morning at a local Urgent Care center that came back negative.
Christine Baker, the attorney representing Evans, said the family plans to appeal the specific ruling in Common Pleas Court, but Evans’ mother Katina Cottrell also plans to file a federal suit.
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“Ms. Cottrell and other Northmont families have no choice but to pursue remedies in federal court for what they believe to be the violation of their children’s civil rights, the right to due process and equal protection under the law,” Baker said, referencing another Northmont student who was suspended under the “smell” provision. “So far, Northmont administrators only have a knack for smelling marijuana on black kids.”
Northmont school board President Linda Blum said after Wednesday’s vote that school officials would have no comment on the case. Evans has already served his suspension and is back at Northmont. But he testified that the suspension was unfair and put him behind at school this semester.
When school officials first asked Evans that morning why he smelled like marijuana, he said it was from being around his stepfather, who smoked it. During the hearing, Evans said he was scared at the time, admitted the statement about his stepfather was wrong and he shouldn’t have said it.
During the appeal hearing, Cottrell, assistant nursing director at a local nursing home, testified that when she was called, she brought a marijuana saliva test from her work and gave it to her son in front of assistant principal Teresa Dillon.
Cottrell said the test was negative and that she showed the result to Dillon, explaining what the bars on the test meant. Dillon first said Cottrell and Evans “left before I could see the results of the test.” After a second question, she said Cottrell showed her the test, which had “five or six bars, and three of the bars were up with slashes across them.”
Cottrell then took her son to a local urgent care center shortly after 10 a.m. and had them do an independent test, the negative results of which were introduced at the hearing.
David Lampe, the attorney for the board, asked Cottrell if she could produce the person who performed the test at Urgent Care, to testify that the test was properly done. Cottrell said no, and expressed disbelief that educators’ smell-test was being trusted more than medical facility results.
Lampe introduced Evans’ discipline record, showing multiple referrals the past two years for defiance, disrespect and skipping class. He also referenced a 1996 medical study suggesting marijuana usage may not show up on a test in the first few hours after smoking.
Northmont officials would not comment about specifics of the case. Superintendent Tony Thomas did explain that any suspension of 10 days or less does not “follow” a student on their record, and is expunged at the end of the school year.
Northmont has been working with an Equity Fellows group to improve race-related disparities in schools. During the hearing, Baker cited federal data that black students at Northmont have been suspended at much higher rates than white students.
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