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The Speech Theatre at Los Alamos High was the backdrop to a different kind of drama Tuesday night as friends, family and well-wishers showed up at the scheduled school board meeting to show their support for high school senior Grant Washburn.
Among the crowd of supporters was Washburn’s dad, Gerry, a former school principal who now heads the school district’s human resources department.
Part of the board’s agenda concerned the fate of the younger Washburn’s football career. Washburn was suspended from all extracurricular activities, including football, after a voluntary search of his vehicle Aug. 30 produced an empty baggie that subsequently tested for a substance consistent with marijuana.
During the hearing, Washburn told the board that indeed, he left campus without permission to drop a friend off in another part of town. It was implied that it was this friend who left the rolling papers, two cigarette lighters and the empty baggie behind.
The board patiently heard two hours of testimony over whether to reinstate the star football player and then took another hour to make its decision.
When all was said and done, the board decided to reinstate Washburn to the Los Alamos High School football team.
Washburn was reinstated to the team by a 3-2 board vote. The two negative votes were by board members Kevin Honnell and Dawn Venhaus. The affirmative votes were cast by board members Dave Foster, Judy Bjarke-McKenzie and Melanie McKinley.
After a short conversation with Washburn, a teary-eyed Venhaus left the room shortly after the vote was taken. Honnell declined to say why he voted against Washburn’s reinstatement, only saying “this was a judiciary hearing, so I’m not going to comment on it, though, I appreciate your interest,” Honnell said.
The three that voted for Washburn’s reinstatement were more forthcoming, however.
After hearing the testimony that technically Washburn was not in possession of marijuana and since there wasn’t any in the bag, just “residue” and that was used up in testing.
The most powerful piece of testimony concerning that fact came from the arresting officer himself, Los Alamos Police Cpl. Jordan Redmond, who told the board “as an officer I would feel uncomfortable going before a judge saying this person is in possession if I have no substance to show.”
McKinley also noted that Washburn never failed any drug tests, before or since the incident.
“There was lack of evidence of possession, and there was clear evidence he was clean,” McKinley said.
Audrey Washburn said as much during her appeal to the board to reinstate her son.
“Grant did not possess any illicit drugs as has been stated in several school documents presented here,” she said. “He has taken and passed multiple drug screens, proving he has not been using drugs. He’s also willing to submit to future screenings. A clean drug test should matter,” Audrey Washburn, a special education teacher for the district, told the board.
Before the board went to executive session to make its decision, LAPS Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt reminded the board why he and his staff decided to take Washburn out of football and other extracurricular activities.
“While the amount of marijuana was insignificant and small, it was still found and it was found in the proximity of cigarette lighters and rolling papers and that tells a picture of suspicion,” Schmidt said.
He also reminded the board that there was another drug possession incident in April that also involved Washburn, but it was outside of school.
“Something happened in April that did not come through a superintendent’s disciplinary process but was held to an athletic standard,” Schmidt told the board. “And so that makes this complex.”
After the vote was announced, Washburn hugged his girlfriend as well as his mother before going up to shake the hands of the board members.
“I am very relieved,” was all he said about the hearing’s outcome. Washburn’s dad was a little more talkative.
“I’m thankful that he has a second chance to do what he loves,” Gerry said. “I’m also very appreciative of the board, and I hope my son makes full use of the opportunity to play football again.”
The dismissal of Washburn prompted the creation of an online petition, which urged the Los Alamos School District to relax its zero-tolerance policy. Close to 400 people signed the petition that was created by Washburn’s sister Kayti Herring.
Herring wrote the following in the petition:
“I would like to ask for your consideration in the matter regarding Grant Washburn’s removal from athletics for the 2012-2013 school years due to an empty plastic baggie found among a trash bag’s worth of additional trash.
“The student then passed several drug screens and volunteered to undergo further testing throughout the year to prove his innocence. The stance of the ruling is that the school has no minimum amount in order to claim possession of a controlled substance (Zero Tolerance).
“I would challenge that in this case the non-amount present and the existence of a clean drug screening would be sufficient evidence to merit an alternate ruling. I believe that the verdict sends the message to our students, parents, staff, and community that a policy is more important than a child.
“In addition, ruling in this manner is in contradiction with the Los Alamos Public Schools vision for a community-school partnership. Each case, as each child, is individual and I would expect this case to be evaluated in such a manner.
“A Los Alamos High School student’s dismissal from the football team has prompted the creation of an online petition, urging the school district to relax its zero-tolerance policy.”