A graduate of Folly Quarter Middle School appealed his 45-day suspension in a rare public appeals hearing yesterday after he was accused by another student of providing vodka during a bus ride to school in the spring.
Most student disciplinary appeals hearings are closed to the public under Maryland law, but a parent or guardian can request the proceedings to be open.
In this case, the parents of Philip Ashtianie, who will be a freshman at River Hill High School, decided to waive their son's confidentiality because they have been frustrated by the school system, which they accuse of determining their son's guilt without due process. Philip and his parents say he was falsely accused.
The nine-hour hearing touched upon issues of whether Philip was given due process by school administrators and the credibility and motivation of Philip and his accuser, referred during the proceedings as "Student A" - who later recanted his initial allegation against Philip, then stuck by his original version of events.
"There is one person who without a doubt is a liar," said Allen Dyer, Philip's attorney. "It's Student A."
Before hearing examiner Judith S. Bresler and the public, Philip denied accusations that he distributed a Dasani water bottle filled with vodka to Student A, another eighth-grader, during a bus ride to school on May 11.
The student became seriously ill after arriving at school and was taken to the hospital, according to school officials.
Asked by Dyer whether he had any contact with Student A on the bus, Philip said, "No, I got on and listened to music. That's it."
But Folly Quarter Principal Carl Perkins said his investigation found otherwise. Student A named Philip as the student who gave him the alcohol, Perkins testified yesterday.
"I asked him specifically where he got it from, and he said he got it from Phil," Perkins said, noting he also interviewed students who said they had knowledge of what allegedly happened on the bus.
Two days later, on May 13, Perkins suspended Philip for 10 days and referred his investigation to Craig Cummings, coordinator of alternative education programs and the superintendent's designee in Philip's suspension case.
Student A's punishment was not revealed because of student confidentiality rules.
After reviewing the principal's investigation and further interviews with Student A and his parents, and Philip and his parents, Cummings, in a letter dated May 27, said he extended Philip's suspension to 45 days and assigned him to evening school.
When Student A later recanted his initial allegation against Philip, Cummings said it caused him "great concern," which prompted him to re-interview Student A and come to the same conclusion.
"In this case, it came down to who did I believe," Cummings said.
The school system's alcohol and drug policy calls for a minimum 45-day suspension, mandatory counseling and a ban from extracurricular participation for the remainder of the semester and the next semester for a first offense of distribution. For students who are found to be using or possessing alcohol or drugs, the policy calls for a minimum five-day suspension for a first-time offense.
Mark Blom, the school system's general counsel representing the superintendent, countered Dyer's arguments that due process was not granted to Philip.
"We have a serious matter here," Blom said. "I hope it hasn't gotten lost in a myriad of legal arguments - that is, Philip violated a significant Board of Education policy."
An article in some editions of The Sun yesterday about the disciplinary appeals hearing of a student accused of providing alcohol to a classmate incorrectly identified Judith S. Bresler as the hearing examiner. Sue Mahaffey presided over the appeals hearing.The Sun regrets the error.