Their son remains out of school — he’s due to return Monday on strict probation. But in the meantime, the events of the past six months have wreaked havoc on the formerly happy-go-lucky boy’s psyche. His parents say he’s withdrawn socially, and is now under the care of a pediatric psychiatrist for panic attacks and depression.
The couple — both are schoolteachers — have filed a federal lawsuit against Bedford County Schools and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office. It refers to their son only by the initials R.M.B.
It alleges Bedford Middle School Assistant Principal Brian Wilson and school operations chief Frederick “Mac” Duis violated his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.
“Essentially they kicked him out of school for something they couldn’t prove he did,” said Roanoke attorney Melvin Williams, the Bays’ lawyer.
It also accuses the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office of malicious prosecution, because Deputy M.M. Calohan, a school resource officer, filed marijuana possession charges against the boy despite field tests that indicated otherwise.
“The field test came back not inconclusive, but negative,” Williams said. “Yet she went to a magistrate and swore he possessed marijuana at school.”
The couple said Duis ultimately rejected Wilson’s recommendation for expulsion, but instead suspended their son for 364 days. The reason Duis cited in a letter he sent later was “possession of marijuana.”
The juvenile court hearing happened late in November. When the Bays got there, Sitzler informed them that the commonwealth was going to ask for a continuance because they had neglected to send the leaf off to a state lab for testing.
Linda Bays told Sitzler they wouldn’t agree to a continuance. Sitzler went back to the prosecutor, “and she came back and said they were going to drop” the charge. That’s when the Bays learned the leaf had field-tested negative three times.
The school system also required the boy be evaluated for substance abuse problems. So the Bays took him to his longtime pediatrician in Lynchburg, who referred them to a pediatric psychiatrist.
They said the psychiatrist told them he didn’t believe their son had a substance abuse problem. But by then, the boy had other problems. After the disciplinary hearing, “he just broke down and said his life was over. He would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job,” Linda Bays said.
Now their son is skittish about going out in public, suffers from panic attacks and is depressed. The psychiatrist is treating him for that.