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School District Loses on Suspension

September 23, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

Even though he graduated from Corona del Mar High School three months ago, Ryan Huntsman continues to have an effect on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

The 4th District Court of Appeals last week rejected the district's attempts to uphold the penalties it imposed on Huntsman under the district's zero-tolerance drug policy in the spring.

In February, Newport Beach police said they found in Huntsman's car a pipe with marijuana residue. Huntsman said the pipe belonged to a friend; he was not charged. The officer forwarded his report to the school district, which suspended Huntsman under its drug policy and ordered his transfer from Corona del Mar to Newport Harbor High School.

Superior Court Judge Robert Thomas ruled in March that, when the policy called for a 90-day suspension with less than 90 days left in Huntsman's senior year, Newport-Mesa effectively expelled him from Corona del Mar without a chance to defend himself.

Thomas barred Huntsman's suspension and transfer, and on Thursday the appellate court dismissed the district's appeal of that decision.

Among other assertions, Huntsman's attorney David Shores had argued that the point is moot because Newport-Mesa lost jurisdiction over Huntsman when he graduated June 18. The district argued that the point is not moot because the problem could recur with another student.

Newport-Mesa School Board President James M. Ferryman expressed disappointment over the decision. He added that, though he wishes the district's policy were flexible, the trustees are obligated to enforce zero tolerance.

"I've never been a real big fan of this thing," he said. "I don't see where transferring a kid to another school is real productive."

Ferryman said he will ask the board to review the policy.

"You've got to make the students understand you're serious about the situation," he said. "By the same token, you've got to create a balance so it isn't so onerous."

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