Madison honor student spared an expulsion
A 14-year-old brings bourbon to school, initially expelled under "zero tolerance" rules
MADISON, Wis. — Melissa Meyer paced the halls of the Doyle Administration Building on the other side of closed doors.
“All she wants to do is go to school tomorrow morning,” Meyer said.
Meyer’s fourteen-year-old daughter Maia is an honor student at East High School. About six weeks ago, she admitted to bringing a few ounces of bourbon on campus and giving some to a friend. Since then, Meyer has been by her daughter’s side for hearings and long days at home.
“She made a mistake and should have consequences,” Meyer said. “The problem is that these, the consequences that they’re meeting out are completely out of proportion with the crime.”
Meyer hired attorney Jeff Spitzer-Resnick to represent the family as they fought the recommendation to expel Maia.
“It was pure punishment. No discretion, no teaching,” Spitzer-Resnick said.
Spitzer-Resnick explained the usually upstanding student brought the alcohol to school after being peer pressured to bring money for marijuana. After getting an anonymous tip, East High administration asked Maia if they would find any pot if they searched her belongings. That’s when she admitted to bringing the bourbon to school.
Spitzer-Resnick said the girl had no prior record of discipline issues before this. In addition, Maia and her friend didn’t drink the alcohol. Maia’s friend received a three-day suspension, while she has been home for about six weeks.
However, according to the Madison district’s “zero tolerance” policies, taking alcohol to school and distributing is an offense that merits expulsion.
“Zero tolerance is a non-thinking policy,” Spitzer-Resnick said.
“It’s exactly the same punishment as if you were in the cafeteria selling heroin,” Meyer noted.
Monday evening, the school board decided Maia could come back to school.
After that call, the board went on to approve a new behavior policy (http://www.channel3000.com/education/madison-school-district-hopes-to-join-national-education-movement/25257946) which moves away from the “zero tolerance” approach and aims to keep more kids in the classroom. Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham encouraged the board to adopt the new policies.
“Maia’s case demonstrates why the current code is such a challenge,” Cheatham said. “And I know it’s been hard for me on a personal level to have to implement our current code of conduct all year long knowing that this is something that we’re pushing to change.”
Spitzer-Resnick said Maia can apply to have the expulsion taken off of her record when she’s a junior. That said, he said she would have only received a four to five day suspension under the new policies, and he is confident the expulsion will be expunged as a result.
Regardless, Spitzer-Resnick said Maia’s case drew significant attention to the issue of dealing with behavior in schools.
“People are paying attention now to how the school district exercises discipline,” Spitzer-Resnick said.
“Kicking the kid out doesn’t do anything. It’s not good for the community, it’s not good for the kid, it’s not good for the school. It just doesn’t make sense,” Meyer said.