Student Kills Self After Suspension Over Legal Drug

Let's check in on America's public school systems and see how we're preparing our youth of today for the challenges of tomorrow! In Fairfax County, Va., The Washington Post reports, a 15-year-old "model student" and linebacker, Nick Stuban, was suspended and banned from school property for seven weeks for buying a capsule of the legal "marijuana-like" synthetic compound JWH-108. He was then reassigned to a different high school; a month later, he killed himself.

Should we tally up all the unbelievably screwed-up things about this story? Let's!

  • JWH-108 is legal. Stuban—who declined to purchase DMT when offered—only bought it after researching the substance online and confirming it was.
  • After Stuban was caught (without the drug on his person; he says he threw it away), he was convinced (or coerced) into signing a confession before his parents were even called.
  • School administrators told Nick's dad Steve that they had never heard of JWH-108; nonetheless, his infraction—"possession of 'an imitation controlled substance' and behavior 'incompatible with a k-12 educational environment'"—was considered more serious than being under the influence of cocaine or ecstasty—because, apparently, he was in possession of a dangerous substance on school grounds.
  • Hearing officer Dana Scanlan told the Post that the same standard would be applied to oregano "packaged to look like marijuana." Oregano!
  • The Stubans attended Nick's disciplinary hearing without a lawyer on the advice of "a Woodson administrator who Steve Stuban said cautioned against bringing in one because it might create a confrontational climate."
  • Nick didn't receive his ruling until 14 school days after the hearing. He was transferred to another high school, to show that students can't, in the words of school board member Jane K. Strauss, "just get away with it and come back."

A month after receiving his transfer orders, Stuban took his own life. And, the thing is, we don't know the extent to which his disciplinary problems contributed to his suicide, but we don't need to—the bottom line is that he was a hurting kid betrayed by the institutions that should have been protecting and nurturing him. (If there's a practical lesson here, the blogger IOZ has it: Don't talk to anyone or sign anything without a lawyer.)

The Post wonders if this is a problem with Fairfax County. But pretty much anyone who went to public school in the U.S. can remember kids they knew who were caught with drugs (or, in some cases, alleged to have had drugs at some point or another) and put in front of disciplinary committees—rarely, if ever, to their benefit. (Perhaps the experience will help them understand Kafka better. If they are ever allowed in class again.)

Maybe school officials in those positions really are the unbelievably cruel assholes they seem to be, or maybe they're decent people hamstrung by zero-tolerance policies. At best, they're punishing kids for engaging in a near-universal teenage behavior that does no demonstrable harm; at the worst, as in the case of Nick Stuban, they're casting out the students who most need their attention and support, all for the sake of our draconian drug policy. But hey, I guess Nick's story proves that drugs do ruin lives. If you get caught.

[WaPo; image via Nick Stuban's tribute page]