It may have been a Japanese maple leaf, or something similar. So why would a sixth grader be suspended for a year for simply bringing a piece of foliage with him to school? Because that leaf happened to resemble (somewhat) a cannabis leaf, and the school has a very strict “anti-fake-controlled-substance” policy.
Apparently, the kid was pretending that it was pot, and when the assistant principal found out about it, he was promptly suspended. It’s actually a little more complicated than that. You can read the entire account here. It’s very possible that the kid didn’t even know about the offensive leaf in his bag, and that some other student “planted” it there without the other kid knowing.
At any rate, this is like those rules where if a kid points his index finger and says, “bang,” he gets suspended or expelled for violating the school’s anti-gun laws, even though a finger can’t do nearly as much damage as an actual firearm. It’s the thought that counts though.
So, if some kid shows up to school with those candy cigarettes and pretends to smoke them, he’s violating the school’s non-smoking policy and would be promptly suspended with a “history of drug use” branded on his permanent record. And if a kid brings a Japanese maple leaf to school and pretends it’s marijuana, the principal will swiftly suspend the student and won’t allow him back for a year. The Washington Post reported:
Earlier this school year, a sixth-grader in the gifted-and-talented program at Bedford Middle School in Bedford, Virginia was suspended for one year after an assistant principal found something that looked like a marijuana leaf in his backpack.
The student, the 11-year-old son of two schoolteachers, had to enroll in the district’s alternative education program and be homeschooled. He was evaluated by a psychiatrist for substance abuse problems, and charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court. In the months since September, he’s become withdrawn, depressed, and he suffers from panic attacks. He is worried his life is over, according to his mother, and that he will never get into college.
The only problem? The “leaf” found in the student’s backpack wasn’t what authorities thought it was — it tested negative for marijuana three separate times.
[…] While the juvenile court dropped its case against the student after the tests turned up negative, the school system, in a community located midway between Roanoke and Lynchburg, has been far less forgiving. That’s because stringent anti-drug policies in school districts in Virginia and elsewhere consider “imitation” drugs to be identical to real ones for disciplinary purposes.
The school’s lawyer, Jim Guynn, is quoted in the Roanoke Times article defending the policy on the basis that “it’s a pretty standard policy across the Commonwealth.” In 2011, for instance, four seventh-graders in Chesapeake, Virginia were suspended over bringing a bag of oregano to school.
A bag of oregano! Were the kids pretending that it was marijuana? Yeah, probably. They’re seventh graders. But it was oregano. You know, the savory and slightly bitter herb commonly used in Italian dishes and which as far as I know remains an uncontrolled substance. And it could probably be used on some public school cafeteria lunches. I hear the food there is not unlike prison food.
I guess the one good thing about this whole ordeal is that the “drug user” student had to be homeschooled. More time spent away from these empty-headed school administrators the better.