For background on Teresas case, click here.
In his decision, Hearing Officer John Allbritton wrote, "The argument of the Superintendent that the fact that student concealed the baggie and passed it on to her friend is evidence that she knew of the presence and illicit nature of the pill is without merit. It is simply evidence of a frightened 15-year-old child who did not use good judgment and who probably would have done the same thing if all of the pills had proven to be legal."
Allbritton also found that part of the schools disciplinary policy, which basically delineates possession as possession, regardless of knowledge, intent or mitigating circumstances, had been breached. Tempered by the facts, however, he decided, "Expulsion is not justified in this case and the penalty of 10 days suspension coupled with the mental anguish that student Elenz has had to endure throughout this turmoil is more than sufficient."
In point of fact, because of delays in the process, Teresa was suspended for a month. The school policy is subject to strenuous constitutional challenge in state or federal courts. Because of its practical resolution, Teresas case likely will not go that far, but unless such policies are voluntarily rescinded, other cases will reach those courts, the sooner the better.
Any hope that Escambia County school officials have any remorse for their brutalizing treatment of Teresa (and others in similar circumstances) was dashed on Sunday, September 29 in comments School Superintendent Jim Paul made to the Pensacola News Journal. Incredibly, Paul argued that Teresas case proves that the system works. "We followed the process here, and there was resolution," he said. That he instituted a process "without merit" seems to have escaped him. That his resolution was to be expulsion is ignored. That his pledge of fairness and flexibility is fabrication is obvious to anyone who has examined the school systems prior record in cases of innocent students.
The only things that worked for Teresa Elenz were her own honesty and innocence; her devoted parents and grandmother; Kelly McGraw, her fist in a Southern glove attorney; the tenacious front page news coverage of the case by Jenny LaCoste of the Pensacola News Journal, and the efforts of the Center for Individual Freedom.
Superintendent Paul and his minions intended a zero tolerance railroad job. That got derailed, but a troubled, scandal-ridden school system remains. Only the citizens of Escambia County can change that.October 1, 2002