By Kirsten Laskey
When rolling papers and a plastic baggy were discovered in a Los Alamos High School (LAHS) student’s car, it resulted in a month-long suspension and removal from LAHS’s football team for a year.
Whether Los Alamos Public Schools responded to this situation correctly was debated during the school board meeting Tuesday night.
After hearing several presentations made by student and football player Grant Washburn, his family, coach and one of his teachers, the school board voted 3-2 to overturn the Washburn’s expulsion from the football team.
In an e-mail to the Los Alamos Daily Post, LAPS Board President Kevin Honnell, paraphrasing the passed motion said, “By a split decision, 3-2, the board voted to overturn the previous Level I and Level II findings of drug possession on LAHS property stemming from the Aug. 30 search, based on a lack of physical evidence to support the findings and clear evidence that the student was not using. As a result, that alleged infraction is stricken and the student is thus eligible to participate in LAPS extracurricular activities.”
Voting in favor of the motion were board members Melanie McKenzie, David Foster and Judy Bjarke-McKenzie; he and board member Dawn Venhaus opposed the motion, he said.
Both sides, the students’ family and LAPS administration presented their cases.
The events discussed began when Washburn offered to give a friend a ride off campus. His late return to class triggered the teacher to report Washburn’s absence to school administrators.
When Washburn returned to school, he parked his car in front of the high school’s auto body shop and was asked if it could be moved.
Washburn allowed the car to be moved and then permitted it to be searched, which is when the baggy and the rolling papers were discovered.
LAHS Assistant Principal Michael Johnson explained that the rolling papers were considered drug paraphernalia and a test conducted on the baggie tested positive for marijuana residue.
As a result, Washburn was suspended. While this was considered to be Washburn’s first offense in the school district, it was his second offense marked by the extra-curricular activities policy.
LAHS Athletic Director Vicki Nelms reported that Washburn had a previous offense dealing with drugs in April 2012.
As result, he was suspended for 30 days and banned from participating in activities for the rest of the school year.
Nelms commented that athletes sign a rule of conduct and a code of conduct and are given a conduct handbook, which they are required to sign.
The Washburn family argued things were not so black-and-white. Washburn’s father, Gerry Washburn, said whatever substance was in the baggie – there was not enough to use or sell, and pointed out that the drug screening his son offered to take showed he was free of drugs.
As a result, the Washburns argued there was no drug possession.
Audrey, Washburn’s mother, said not only did her son volunteer to take a drug screening, he said he would take other tests.
“What more proof could you offer,” she said.
Allison, Washburn’s sister, said “Grant is being punished for a piece of trash.” She added, “Does this punishment fit this crime?”
John Pawlak, one of Washburn’s teachers, also spoke in support of the student.
He noted Washburn had already been punished with his suspension from school and that he had volunteered to take random drug tests.
“I think this is a no-brainer. He’s a good kid,” Pawlak said.
McKinley offered some advice to Washburn. She commented that as a teacher, one of her students was missing from class and it “scared the bejeezus out of me.”
She said that one’s actions impact other people and encouraged Washburn in the future to use what she called, “a stupid filter” when faced with such decisions as agreeing to take a friend off-campus.