Twenty Irvine High School students have been suspended for five days and one faces possible expulsion after officials busted them on May 20 for having marijuana, alcohol and nitrous oxide in a chauffeured van outside the senior prom.
The senior facing expulsion allegedly supplied the nitrous oxide to the others. He will almost certainly not be expelled, however, because the school year will end before the six-week disciplinary proceeding can be completed, Deputy Supt. Dean Waldfogel said.
The 18 students who are seniors will receive their diplomas. But five were transferred from the school, and will not be allowed to take part in graduation exercises because it was the second time they had been caught with an illegal substance at a school event, school officials said.
"There were 989 [students] inside the prom having the night of their life, perfectly behaved," Principal Gail Richards said. "There were 20 kids in the parking lot who missed the night of their life because they made some bad decisions about what a good time is supposed to be."
As for the students who will miss graduation ceremonies, she said: "The consequences are tragic for the families to miss the culminating activity for high school."
School officials had warned seniors not to bring alcohol or drugs to the prom. The offenders were caught when an assistant principal boarded the van--as is the practice for all buses arriving at the prom--and smelled marijuana, she said.
"I had a senior class meeting before the prom and told them, 'We expect you to come to the prom absolutely sober; don't even think of making bad decisions,' " Richards said.
Four of the transferred students will complete the year at Self High School, Irvine's continuation school; the other was on an inter-district transfer, which was canceled.
The prom took place at the Sun Theatre in Anaheim. Two off-duty Irvine police who were acting as parent chaperons at the event called Anaheim police after the assistant principal caught the students, Richards said.
A senior girl was ticketed for possession of "a small amount of marijuana" after the substance was found in her purse, Irvine Sgt. Bob Richardson said. In addition, one opened and several unopened bottles of liquor were found on the bus, as were several bongs, officials said.
No one was prosecuted for possession of the nitrous oxide, which is illegal, because the Anaheim police could not prove who had brought the 27-inch canister onto the van, he said.
School officials, however, used less restricted interrogation techniques to develop more information. That led to a recommendation of expulsion by Richards, the principal. The state and the district proscribe a specific process for expulsion, which includes a period for gathering and sharing evidence, as well as a hearing prior to a final decision by the school board.
"We have a timetable in motion to set an administrative hearing . . . [but} it takes six weeks to process an expulsion and have it reach the school board," Waldfogel said. "One of the issues has to do with time left in school and time to process an expulsion."
Waldfogel said the district would not notify colleges of the transgressions.
"Our goal here is to help kids all the way along," he said. "It is not to damage lives of kids. The goal is to educate them about the dangers of using illegal substances, to make the point that this behavior shouldn't be repeated and to change behaviors that need to be changed."
Sgt. Richardson said the police were disturbed by the actions of the limousine driver, and notified the state Public Utilities Commission, which licenses limousine services.
"This tank was brought on board with knowledge of the limousine driver, who was unaware they were using balloons full of nitrous oxide and smoking marijuana," Richardson said. "He was very inattentive to what was going on inside."