Administration investigates food tampering

A Seaholm High School teacher fell ill after eating a marijuana-laced cookie given to him by a student on March 4, according to the Birmingham Police Department.

The student, 18, was expelled on March 17 and now faces charges of food tampering, a possible ten-year felony.

“There was a student at Seaholm High School, and he gave his teacher a cookie, the teacher got sick and was taken to the emergency room later on that night,” Birmingham Police Department lieutenant Chris Busen said. “When they did blood work on the teacher it was found that he had marijuana in his system, and he doesn’t smoke marijuana, so he figured it was probably in the cookie that was given to him by the student. So when we interviewed the student, he did admit to sticking marijuana in a chocolate chip cookie.”

Possession of marijuana, which is just a misdemeanor, is different than the charge of food tampering. Had the student not given the teacher the cookie, he would have only faced the misdemeanor charge.

“The crime changes with his intent,” Busen said. “His intent by giving it to someone else, knowing that it had marijuana in it, is what makes it food tampering.”

In the school’s investigation, the student was charged with a violation of the code of conduct. There is no section on food tampering within Birmingham Public Schools’ code of conduct, so the administration worked within the guidelines of possession and distribution of drugs.

Under Michigan law, the building principal and superintendent make a recommendation of actions to the local Board of Education, which then makes the ultimate decision. Seaholm principal Rachel Guinn and Birmingham Public Schools superintendent Dr. Daniel Nerad both made the recommendation to the Birmingham Board of Education to expel the student, and the Board agreed.

Nerad said although it was a difficult decision to make, he felt his recommendation was necessary because he had to ensure the safety of the staff and students at Seaholm.

Graphic illustration / Julia Wright

Graphic illustration / Julia Wright

“I looked at a lot of different options as to how we could deal with this, but in the end that’s the side I came down on,” Nerad said. “What an expulsion often does is helps the school remain safe, it doesn’t necessarily help the young person that has a future ahead of them. But I felt in this particular case, it was unacceptable and it did not meet the standard of safety that I want for students and for staff and I felt that this was the action that had to be taken.”

Guinn agreed and said she also felt the comfort of the Seaholm community, particularly the staff, was the main concern.

“To me, one has to balance out the safety and well-being of our students,” she said, “I have an equal responsibility to provide that same level of safety and well-being for our faculty members who come to work each day, and this was to me a very clear violation of that.”

Nerad said in investigations regarding drugs, protocol typically includes the testing for a substance, in this case THC. In addition to the testing, the investigation consisted of direct interviews with the victim and the alleged suspect.

“You try to be as comprehensive as possible,” Nerad said. “Inherent in that process is the process that is called ‘due process,’ allowing the person that is being investigated a chance to provide facts of their own. In other words, you get a chance to tell your side of the story.”

Assistant principal Ali Hamka directed the school’s investigation. He said the whole process took two and a half full days. He interviewed the teacher to find out who the possible suspect could have been, then interviewed that individual.

“It was not difficult,” Hamka said. “It’s not like this is CSI here. We ask some questions; we aim to understand, then we follow the code of conduct in terms of redirection and discipline.”

The student admitted to lacing the cookie with marijuana during the interview.

“We interviewed the student and it was pretty cut and dry,” Hamka said. “It wasn’t too hard to figure out what had happened.”

Hamka emphasized that the main concern of the investigation was the safety of the students and staff at Seaholm.

“This whole situation has to do with health and safety,” Hamka said. “We don’t have a specific policy for that incident precisely, that’s not the way things work. [We had to be] more general. So the individual possibly hurt our staff. [The student] put him in a situation where he was hospitalized. So, we use it across the board. If anybody intentionally hurt somebody, what would we do? So we use that same determination moving forward.”

Hamka said he was shocked when the incident occurred.

“These things don’t happen often,” he said. “And when they do it’s like a kidney shot; it knocks the wind out of you. I’ve been in education for 11 years and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this and I hope it’s the last time.”

But events similar to this one have occurred in the past. In December 1990 at Troy Athens High School, a student spiked a teacher’s coffee with LSD. The Troy school board suspended her in February 1991 for the remainder of the school year. In October of that year, the courts found her guilty of poisoning a food or drink, a felony. She was sentenced to six months in jail and three years probation.

Teachers at Troy Athens protested the school board’s decision not to expel her, saying it was an example of the board’s disregard for teachers’ safety.

At Seaholm, a student spiked a coffee pot with LSD in April 1986. The testing results on the coffee pot showed strong evidence of the drug, but the teacher who fell ill did not have any of the drug in her system.

Some students at Seaholm said they are disappointed by the results of the incident. Senior Leah Stanisz said she doesn’t think this incident portrays the school fairly.

“It’s a negative thing when all this is on the news because people think this is such a bad school, but we don’t have a lot trouble going on in these halls,” Stanisz said.

Nerad said he worried that the staff would feel unsafe if less serious disciplinary action had been taken.

“Just as a parent shouldn’t have to worry when they send their child to school whether they’re safe in school, a staff shouldn’t have to worry either,” Nerad said, “and this was a violation of that trust.”

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