Are Kern County schools too quick to pull suspensions trigger?

Are Kern County schools too quick to pull suspensions trigger?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — “Cynthia” is a parent of a fifth-grade girl who attends school in the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District. She described getting a call recently from her daughter's principal, asking her to come down to the school because her daughter had gotten in trouble.

During the phone conversation, Cynthia, who spoke with Eyewitness News on condition of antimony, said she was told that students had ingested a bottle of "no-bite" fingernail polish brought to school by her daughter.

“She brought this and all these kids were tasting it,” Cynthia said. She learned more of the details of the day once she arrived to the principal’s office.

"She painted a friend's nails, and another girl came and said, 'What is that?' The other girl went around telling people she has something that taste like cotton candy, then kids all started coming and she put it on their nails, and they all licked it,” Cynthia recalled.

She was told that a student reported the group of kids had painted their nails, and they were called to the office and questioned about how they were feeling.

“One little boy said he had a stomach ache,” Cynthia said.

Hearing her daughter’s punishment would be the biggest shock of the day - five-day suspension with the potential to be expelled.

The principal gave the school's rationale.

“She endangered the other students by bringing this, and it was toxic to other student,” Cynthia quoted the principal.

“She has been a perfect-attendance student up until this quarter, honor student, never been in trouble, so to me the five days was extreme,” the mom said.

Eyewitness News questioned officials with the school district about the incident. Spokeswoman Gerrie Kincaid explained their position.

“Anytime a student creates a disruption to the normal operation of the school, that bring it to the threshold of a suspension,” Kincaid said.

Kincaid stated that the policy is included in a handbook sent home at the beginning of the school year. We asked if polish was specifically mentioned as a banned substance.

“No, it does not say that nail polish can't be brought on campus,” Kincaid replied to the question.

Timothy McKinley is an attorney the California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. office in Delano. McKinley has represented students facing expulsion. Although Cynthia was told that her daughter could have faced expulsion, she has received word her daughter will be allowed back to school. Other students haven't been so lucky.

McKinley cited one of his more memorable cases during our conversation.

“A child who had just turned 11 was walking next to a fellow 11-year-old, and he asked her if she knew how football players celebrated a touchdown. She said, 'No,' so he smacked her one on the rear end and ran off cackling. Now, that's a bad idea, it was the wrong thing for him to do,” McKinley said.

“It was worth lunch detention or a week after school, something like that. What they gave him was an expulsion, alleging sexual battery,” McKinley said.

The expulsion was approved by the expulsion panel and upheld by the school board. The case was later overturned. The county education board disallowed the expulsion, deciding it was substantially too severe a punishment.