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WARREN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION v. ALEXANDRA RENEE WILKINSON

DECEMBER 10, 1986

WARREN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION
v.
ALEXANDRA RENEE WILKINSON, A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HER NEXT FRIEND AND FATHER, JOHN C. WILKINSON



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., ANDERSON AND GRIFFIN, JJ.

GRIFFIN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

" But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. *fn1

This case has as its genesis the loss of all credit for a semester as a result of a minor indiscretion by a 16-year-old sophomore attending Warren Central Senior High School. The conduct of the school officials epitomizes the misuse of good law. What we have to say in this case shall not be interpreted as condemnation of any individual, but is supplied as a guide in future disciplinary actions taken by school boards.

 On June 1, 1984, the appellee, Alexandra Renee Wilkinson, and a friend and schoolmate, after her parents had gone to work, drank two or three sips of her daddy's beer at her residence and then went to school. This was the last day of school. Renee was exempt from examinations because of her perfect attendance, deportment and good grades. Nevertheless, she attended school and after lunch, some time after 1:00 but before 1:30, the school principal removed her from a class and extracted from her an admission that she and her friend had drunk beer at her home before coming to school. Other teachers had confronted the classmate and received a statement concerning the consumption of the beer. There was no odor of beer on Renee's breath or any evidence of misconduct, and the principal, when asked if during his interrogation of her, her shirt was not fluttering from her heartbeat, stated that she was nervous.

 Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson received the following letter from the principal:

 Renee came to school on Friday, June 1, 1984, after drinking beer with Linda Horan at your house before school. According to our handbook she will have to appear before the Warren County Board of Education before returning to Warren Central. The Board will meet at 4:00 P.M. on Thursday, June 14, 1984, at the Administration Office on Highway 27. I am enclosing a copy of the handbook regulation advising you of the hearing and

 your rights pertaining to the hearing.

 The Wilkinsons did not appear before the school board on June 14 because of prior commitments of the father, but appeared on July 12, 1984. The minutes of that meeting concerning this matter show the following:

 The Warren County Board of Education met at 2:00 o'clock P.M. in the Office of the Superintendent of Education for their regular monthly business meeting held in accordance with the law. Present were Ed Link, President, Molly Boa, James Wilkerson, Walter Christian and Morris Keith. Also present were Sharp W. Banks, Jr., Superintendent and Jim Chaney, Board Attorney.

 The meeting was called to order by the President, Ed Link and opened with prayer by Walter Christian.

 On Motion made, seconded and carried, the Board approved the Minutes of the Regular Meeting held on June 14 and of the Special Meetings held on June 22 and July 5, 1984.

 Upon Motion made by Dr. Link, seconded by Morris Keith, and unanimously carried, the Board voted to go into Executive Session to discuss student disciplinary maters (sic) and personnel matters. Mr. Banks advised that the hearing for Renee Wilkinson had originally been set for the June Board Meeting but had been postponed until today at the request of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson who were unable to attend the June Board Meeting. Mr. Franklin advised that this was the same incident for which Linda Horan had come before the Board last month and he presented a copy of his written report concerning same which is attached to and incorporated with these Minutes. Renee Wilkinson attended the meeting with both of her parents. Dr. Link advised Renee that the Board had received a report that she and another student had drank (sic) some beer at Renee Wilkinson's house on the morning of June 1, 1984, after her parents had gone to work and prior to the students coming to school that day, and Dr. Link asked her if that were true. Renee answered that

 it was. Mr. Wilkinson then presented a written motion requesting dismissal of the charges on the grounds that the Board of Education lacked authority over matters which occurred off school grounds. Copy of the Motion is attached to these Minutes and incorporated herein. The Motion was denied. Mr. Wilkinson then requested that he be allowed to act a (sic) legal counsel for his daughter (sic) which motion was granted. Copy of his written request is also attached to these minutes. After a lengthy discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, and consideration of all the evidence, upon Motion made by James Wilkerson and seconded by Morris Keith, it was the unanimous decision of the Board that Renee Wilkinson had violated the school rules by drinking beer and then coming onto the campus and that she would therefor lose all credit for second semester.

 After a call to the school board, the Wilkinsons were advised of the results of the hearing by a letter from the president of the school board dated July 18, 1984, which reads as follows:

 It is the unanimous decision of the Warren County Board of Education that Renee Wilkinson violated school policy by drinking beer prior to coming to school on the morning of June 1, 1984, and that although this occurred on the last day of school, she will, as is the uniform policy for this type of offense, lose credit for her second semester work. The Warren County School District and the Board of Education are extremely interested and concerned about your daughter. Due to her excellent academic record and the fact that she is only a sophomore, she will likely be able to graduate with her class. You should contact Mr. Franklin at Warren Central High School and set up an appointment so that she can be given the benefit of special scheduling for the next few semesters which will enable her to make up those credits that she has lost.

 The Wilkinsons had a right to appeal; however, they elected to seek an injunction for violation of constitutional rights in chancery court, and the matter was heard before

 the Chancellor a very short time before the opening of the next semester. On July 29, 1984, the Chancellor entered the following opinion:

 This cause has been heard on a Complaint for Injunctive Relief, by agreement of counsel consolidated under M.R.C.P. Rule 65 as to both temporary and permanent relief.

 The facts are not in dispute. The child, sixteen (16) years old, attended Warren Central High School during the 1983-84 school year as a 10th grade student. On June 1st, 1984, the last day of regular classes, at her parent's home before leaving for school, the child and another female classmate, got a can of her father's beer out of the refrigerator and shared about three sips each. Subsequently, they went to school. Sometime after lunch, the other child admitted the above facts to some school authority. The Principal took the child involved in this case out of class sometime after 1:00 p.m. to a conference room and extracted an admission of the above facts from her. The school day ended at 1:30 p.m. The Principal admitted that the child did not even have any odor of beer or alcohol, had not created any disturbance or disruption of any kind, and had no prior disciplinary record. June 1st was the last day of classes for the semester, and the child qualified for exemption from taking final examinations.

 The student handbook, promulgated at the beginning of the school year, page 23, states: Philosophically, the school believes that disciplinary actions should be minimized while assuring and guaranteeing the entire school ...


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