Two advocacy groups have taken legal action in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts over the expulsions of two students seen on campus surveillance video smoking what appeared to be — but what they say was not — marijuana.
The Louisiana Justice Institute has asked for an injunction against the school on behalf of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, alleging a state open meetings law violation, breach of contract and a violation of the students’ right to due process.
“My clients got pranked on Halloween,” Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute said. “Everyone knows it was a practical joke, but they (NOCCA) will not back down."
The groups said Wednesday that the two students — who were identified only as being Hispanic and by their initials, M.D. and M.R. — were given “fake weed” as a Halloween prank by a friend and that they tried it during school hours in the bathroom, where they were captured on video.
An administrator saw the two smoking in the video footage, and another student reported smelling an odor in the bathroom. The two students were searched, but no drugs were found in their pockets, backpacks or lockers, the FFLIC said in a news release.
The FFLIC also held a news conference in front of the school and said a complaint will be filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
NOCCA said it could not discuss the matter because of the pending litigation and privacy concerns for the students and families, other than to say that the expulsions were “due to an admission of a major infringement of the school’s protocol policy and student contract."
It added that “as part of due process and protocol procedure, these students and their families were provided the ability to share input and response to the administration and a committee of our state NOCCA Board of Directors. This committee upheld the decision by NOCCA administration.”
Ashana Bigard, an education consultant for FFLIC, said the school had requested a meeting with the students’ parents over a “protocol issue” and that NOCCA officials did not make clear that any discipline, including expulsion, was being considered.
One of the students denied the allegation and was suspended for two days but was eventually expelled along with the other student, who admitted to reluctantly taking a puff on the cigarette his friend had been given.
The student who was first suspended took a drug test at home and a second test at a doctor’s office days later and passed both, the group said. The students’ parents said they believe a lesser punishment than expulsion is appropriate.
The FFLIC said one of the parents asked to see the security footage but was refused.
The FFLIC said the expulsion notice said the students had five days to file an appeal, “but that due process was denied. Instead, the students were out of school for more than a month while the school dragged its heels about the hearings before the disciplinary committee.”
“When the hearings were finally held on Dec. 2, the proceedings were no better than that of a kangaroo court,” Washington said. “Each plaintiff was only allowed five minutes to present evidence, and the committee quickly voted unanimously to support both expulsions.”
The suit seeks temporary and permanent injunctions against the expulsions along with general damages.