Charging a denial of due process and violation of other constitutional rights, lawyers asked a judge yesterday for the immediate reinstatement of a Baltimore County high school honor student expelled for carrying pepper spray in school.
In the complaint, attorneys for Jodie Ulrich, 17, also challenged as vague the county student handbook, which outlines conduct for the county's 102,000 students. The school system's automatic expulsion policy for some infractions is "unfair, irrational and arbitrary," they argued.
A hearing is expected to be held today before Baltimore County Circuit Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr.
The 40-page brief was the latest step by the Essex family to reverse Ulrich's March expulsion and challenge the county's controversial "zero tolerance" discipline policy.
That policy -- and Ulrich's expulsion -- sparked criticism from parents, teachers and officials, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III. Both leaders called for reinstatement.
The complaint, which named as defendants the school board and Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, said Ulrich's expulsion was "unlawful" because "the automatic expulsion policy is void and unenforceable in that the establishment of mandatory punishment exceeds the scope of the county board's authority."
It also charged the expulsion "deprived Jodie and [JoAnn Osborne, her mother] of their constitutionally protected property interest in a free public education without due process of law."
The lawyers argued that the student handbook does not specifically identify possession of pepper spray as an expulsion offense.
Neither Marchione nor school system spokesman Donald I. Mohler returned calls for comment.
School board member Robert F. Dashiell said, "I'm not surprised. I expect the administration will vigorously defend its position. I disagree with that position but I feel this legal challenge won't be successful."
Two affidavits accompanied the complaint.
One was from Kathleen S. Wildey, a former Parkville High School student who was expelled in 1992 after a student released a canister of pepper spray that she carried. The board overturned the expulsion after 2 1/2 weeks, the affidavit said, on the recommendation of a "Mr. Disney."
Calvin D. Disney, president of the school board, said yesterday, "I have no idea about it and I wouldn't discuss it anyway."
An affidavit from Ulrich's physician, Dr. Wilhelmina Paglinauan of Rossville, said that the teen-ager is suffering from depression since her expulsion and could suffer permanent psychological harm. Symptoms of her depression include irritability, weight loss, insomnia and crying spells.
Ulrich is receiving home teaching twice a week but that expires May 31; classes end June 17. The complaint said that because of the expulsion, she received failing grades for the last two quarters, dramatically altering her grade point average.
Before her expulsion March 6, she was a member of the National Honor Society and three-sport athlete at Chesapeake High.
Ulrich kept a pepper spray canister on her key ring for protection because she worked nights at White Marsh Mall. She inadvertently took it to school and a friend discharged it in a cafeteria.
After her expulsion, a school board panel upheld the action. The case is before the state Board of Education, the next step in the appeal process, but is not likely to be heard for several months.
On May 10, Marchione refused to reinstate Ulrich, a move that led to yesterday's court action.
Marchione is gathering opinions from principals and others about the system's pepper spray policy. The spray now is ranked in Category 3, along with guns and knives, and possession of it results in automatic expulsion.
The legal complaint also noted that "using a pocket knife" is in a category that allows officials to either suspend or expel a student. Critics of the superintendent and the discipline policy have suggested that pepper spray be moved to that category.
School officials did expedite a review of the case because of "special circumstances." Ulrich can return to classes as a senior in September and attend field hockey practice in August.
Pub Date: 5/22/96