Should a student with 'specks' of pot get suspended? 'Zero tolerance' put to test

Students at Key West High School.
Students at Key West High School. FLKeysNews.com File

A Key West teenager who is a gifted baseball player was found with "specks" of marijuana inside his car earlier this year, Monroe County School Board members said.

His options: Waive an administrative hearing and go to alternative education classes, which include students busted for fighting. Or risk the hearing and a possible expulsion from Key West High School that could have wrecked his senior year.

“I don’t necessarily think somebody caught with trace amounts of marijuana should be in the same room as violent offenders, which is essentially where we’re at,” said member Mindy Conn, who is a lawyer.

At a closed-door School Board hearing this month over drug possession on campus, members overruled administrators and kept his record clean. The vote was 3-2. They later argued over the evidence and what constitutes possession, as if in a court room.

“We just had a different standard,” said chairman Bobby Highsmith, another lawyer, who voted against disciplining the student, who could have missed games and opportunities for college scouts to watch him play. “What we did wasn’t violating state or local ordinances. It was just a different standard.”

In doing so, they have begun taking steps to chip away at Monroe County's zero-tolerance policy on drug possession, particularly when it comes to marijuana, which hasn't reached complete legal status in Florida.

Monroe Superintendent Mark Porter said his staff will review the board's discussion and return in June with policy proposals.

"There’s a difference between marijuana possession and a ‘harder’ drug like cocaine or opioids,” Highsmith said at a board meeting in Tuesday meeting in Key West. “Society is changing its views toward marijuana.”

Conn agreed.

“The object is to keep kids in school and we’re kicking them out of school no matter what amount they’re found with,” Conn said.

While the board didn't suggest a weight limit on marijuana, members emphasized that only specks of the plant were found by the K-9 dog that searched the student's vehicle.

The Key West police officer assigned to the school did not cite the baseball player for the amount found, which was so small it couldn’t be weighed.

“To me, if there’s nothing there and the police feel no reason to take any action, I still think we shouldn’t do anything,” member John Dick said, adding that the bits of marijuana found in the student’s car could have been tracked in by another person’s shoe.

Board members Andy Griffiths and Ron Martin, a former principal, were the two dissenters in the 3-2 vote. Neither of them liked the idea of the board rejecting the administration's recommendation.

Griffiths said "connected" families in Key West will do anything to keep their kids out of alternative education classes.

"They're doing their job and I thought we were cutting them off at the knees," Griffiths said.