Martin County parents protest outside school board following 'excessive' punishment for students

Some board members agree change is needed
Posted at 10:37 PM, Jan 17, 2017

Some Martin County parents and community members say they’re not giving up on trying to reverse an “excessive” punishment handed down to four Stuart Middle School 8th graders.


Now, some Martin County School Board members agree some things need to change.


The students are accused of spraying vodka into their mouths. They said they did not know what was in the bottle when it happened.


Parents say one student brought the unmarked spray bottle filled with vodka to school. She passed it around a table, ultimately landing in the hands of three other girls. 


One of those girls, Ruby Tucker, told WPTV she instantly ran to the water fountain after spraying the vodka in her mouth. She did not know what it was, she says, until the next day when she was being called to the principal’s office.


The students were suspended for 10 days and transferred to Spectrum, an alternative school in the county for students with disciplinary issues. All of the girls were given the same punishment as the student who brought the alcohol to school.


All of the girls are also ‘first time offenders’.


Nearly 20 people protested outside the Martin County School District buildings Tuesday afternoon before a school board meeting, protesting a ‘one size fits all’ policy, and demanding a hearing to appeal the punishment.


“My end goal is that each one of these students, all 4 of them, get back to Stuart Middle School,” said father Gary Cleichman. “Isn’t a 10-day suspension enough?”


In Tuesday’s board meeting, board chairperson, Tina McSoley, explained the honor roll students were not being singled out, but that the disciplinary board was following the policies in place when determining the punishment.


“We create blanket policies and they have to be followed. Otherwise, no one has to follow any policies,” McSoley said.


Public records requested by WPTV show one of the 123 students served at Spectrum last year, 87 had clean records or were first time offenders.


Other board members, including Rebecca Negron and Marsha Powers said they want to see the alleged video showing the girls drinking the vodka to make sure policies are being properly followed.


Powers expressed concern that parents of the students involved have also not been able to see the video.


She also said it was unacceptable that the parents were not involved in the disciplinary hearings related to the four students. 


“There was no attempt to work with the parents prior to suspending these kids,” Powers said.


Now, she is leading a charge to for changing the makeup of disciplinary board, right now consisting of only school administrators and the principal at Spectrum.


Powers wants to see more community involvement in the disciplinary process. “You have the people making the rules enforcing the rules, investigating, and being the judge and jury. So that to me does not equate to due process,” Powers said.


Board members decided to hold a workshop within the next month to discuss the possibility of adding more positions to the disciplinary board.