NEWARK – An honor roll student who was suspended from middle school in 2008 because he had an allergy tablet in his backpack will have his record expunged. Pinelands Regional School District in Ocean County has agreed to remove the suspension from the student’s record in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ).
The ACLU-NJ and the school district settled the lawsuit in May. As part of the settlement, the district also agreed to end its zero tolerance drug policy, by eliminating mandatory suspensions for possession of drugs.
“Zero tolerance policies violate New Jersey law and the due process rights of students,” said Frank Corrado of Barry, Corrado and Grassi, P.C., who represented the student on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “We hope this case serves as a lesson for all school districts.”
Under New Jersey law, a school official cannot impose automatic discipline on a student without taking into account the age of the student, his or her discipline history, and the severity of the offense. The only exceptions that would permit immediate suspension or expulsion are for offenses that involve firearms, assaults with weapons or assaults on employees.
The student, P.P., whose identity is protected because he is a juvenile, was in the eighth grade when he was suspended on April 17, 2008. School officials suspended the student for five days after discovering a single over-the-counter allergy tablet inadvertently left in his backpack. In addition to suspending the student, the district stripped him of his membership in the school honor society and barred him from participating in music activities.
“School officials went overboard by treating my son like a criminal for having an allergy pill in his backpack,” said Anne Spollen, who is P.P.’s mother. “I’m relieved that this suspension will be removed from his record and am glad that the district has changed its policy to prevent this from happening again.”
After the suspension, Spollen said other students treated her son differently based on rumors that he had been suspended for drug possession, but the students didn’t realize the drug that landed him in trouble was an allergy pill.
“It became tough with his peers and it had a deleterious effect on him,” Spollen said. “He was in the honor society, but everyone thought he did drugs. He never did drugs.”
Spollen’s son is now a high school senior and will be attending Stockton College in the fall.