A Woodford County High School student is at odds with administrators who put her into an alternative school and stripped her of her position as senior class president after she purchased from a classmate a pill that treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
"K.C.," as the 17-year-old girl is identified in the suit, did not take the pill but put it in an eyeglass case, and a later drug screen "came back completely negative" for the presence of any drugs, the suit says.
The suit says that K.C.'s enrollment in the Woodford district's Safe Harbor alternative school through Oct. 31 amounts to an "illegal expulsion" and that the punishment imposed on her "is arbitrary and not rationally related to the offense charged against" her.
The civil suit was brought by Steve Coleman, the girl's father. The civil suit names Superintendent Scott Hawkins, Woodford County High principal Rob Akers, assistant principal Jennifer Forgy and the Woodford County Board of Education as defendants. Robert Chenoweth, the attorney for the school board, did not return a call Tuesday for comment.
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After a hearing Friday, Judge Danny Reeves denied a motion for a temporary restraining order that would have directed the defendants to stop requiring K.C.'s continued attendance in the alternative school or from prohibiting her to attend her normal schedule of classes at the high school. In addition to stripping K.C. of her position as senior class president, the teen is banned from the high school campus, prohibited from participating in any school-related activities, and was permanently removed from the cross-country team.
"We think it's pretty severe punishment for one isolated event in a career of outstanding academic success," said Lexington lawyer T. Bruce Simpson Jr., who represents K.C. and her father.
A motion for a preliminary injunction is to be heard during another, more extensive hearing Thursday in Lexington.
At issue is an incident that happened in early September, after K.C. discussed her anxiety about upcoming college-entrance tests — particularly the ACT exam scheduled for Sept. 13 — with another student.
The classmate told K.C. that he had a prescription for Vyvanse, a medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The classmate said he thought it would relieve her anxiety and help her focus if she took it before the exam. The classmate said he would sell the pill to K.C. for $5.
"Unaware that obtaining a prescription pill was impermissible, K.C. purchased the pill from her classmate" before the beginning of a class period on Sept. 9, the suit says. It says K.C. made no effort to conceal or hide the purchase. She did not ingest the pill but instead put in her eyeglass case.
"If there was a concern about it being inappropriate or illegal on her part, she wouldn't have obtained it in front of 25 or 30 other students and a teacher," Simpson told the Herald-Leader. "The fact that it was in an open classroom reflects, at least in my judgment and her mind at the time, that there wasn't anything illegal at the time."
But during a third-period class, Forgy, the assistant principal, entered the classroom and, in front of other students, instructed K.C. to gather her belongings and accompany her to the principal's office. The suit says Forgy refused to inform K.C. why she was being detained, and "K.C. was unaware of the basis for her removal from class."
Without explaining why she was called to the office, Akers, the principal, asked K.C. if she "paid another student for something." When K.C. did not immediately divulge that she purchased the pill, Akers directed an enforcement officer to search K.C.
After then realizing what Akers was referring to, K.C. acknowledged she had purchased a pill from a student. K.C. voluntarily handed the pill to Akers. He informed her that a "witness" had "turned her in," the suit says.
Akers and Forgy did not perform further investigation or questioning, the suit says. "Without giving K.C. an opportunity for a hearing or to offer any mitigating reasons for her conduct, defendants levied the following punishment: a five-day suspension (reduced to 21/2 days if K.C. enrolled in and completed a drug treatment therapy); 30 school days of placement in alternative school; a complete ban (except for after-school communications with teachers) from campus and all school-related activities, including all extracurricular clubs and sporting events, and homecoming activities; permanent removal from position as senior class president; permanent removal from the cross-country team and temporary ban from the softball team."
The girl's father, Steve Coleman, arrived at school shortly thereafter and was informed of the incident. Akers and Forgy presented K.C. with a "discipline/suspension report" and instructed her to sign it, without explaining what it was, the suit says.
"The bottom portion of that sheet, which now contains an explanation of the terms of her suspension and punishment, was blank at the time it was presented to, and signed by K.C. Upon information and belief, that portion was completed some time after K.C. left," the suit says.
The suit says that a "Level III offense" such as this can mean referral to the principal with disciplinary action including options of contacting parents, assignment to an alternative classroom, loss of privileges and/or suspension for up to five days. ... Drug- and alcohol-related offenses may also result in mandatory drug/alcohol counseling."
The suit says there is no basis in applicable code or policy that provides for or enables a 30-day mandatory enrollment in the alternative school.
However, in an affidavit, Hawkins, the superintendent, said four other students (and a fifth in a pending case) were assigned to 30-day stays in the alternative program after they were cited for drug offenses.
"What happened in those other situations involving other students, whether they had prior disciplinary problems — I don't know," Simpson said. "I only know what happened in K.C.'s case. In our judgment, the punishment was excessive, and that's why we filed our suit.
"Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of case law which appears to give school authorities wide latitude to exercise whatever kind of punishment they choose, regardless of the circumstances of the individual."
The suit says the only available method for placing a student in the alternative school for periods longer than five days would be through a Placement Committee consisting of a principal, parent, student and other appropriate school personnel. The disciplinary code says repeated Level III offenses may result in referral to the Placement Committee. In this case, K.C. was not afforded an opportunity to appear before a Placement Committee, the suit says.
Upon leaving the school, Coleman took his daughter to a certified drug-screening facility in Lexington to perform a nine-panel drug screen. "The results of the drug screen came back completely negative for the presence of any drugs," the suit says.
During her senior year, K.C. was a member of the National Honor Society and Beta Club, and served on the student newspaper and DECA, a group for emerging leaders. She regularly volunteers at the Jack Jouett House, the Woodford County Clothing Bank, Huntertown Elementary School and the Woodford County Library.
K.C. was enrolled in five advanced-placement classes, in chemistry, literature, Spanish, statistics and environmental science. She had no prior criminal record and no prior disciplinary actions or violations of any kind at the high school.
The suit says the defendants were aware of K.C.'s history of diagnosed anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The suit says she had sought guidance from a school social worker about her anxiety problems.
The suit says that because of a "deficient learning environment" and lack of instruction available to her at the alternative school, K.C. could not adequately prepare for exams.
"She sits in her class in this alternative school and is basically forced to teach herself," Simpson said, "except when she can work out private arrangements with her advanced-placement teachers after regular school hours, which is subject to their availability, and not all of them have been available."
The suit seeks recovery of damages against the defendants, including attorney's fees.