Lack of supporting evidence determined in appeal hearing for suspended student

He is accused of giving vodka to classmate on bus

September 12, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The evidence presented in a disciplinary appeal hearing did not support the 45-day suspension of a former Folly Quarter Middle School pupil who was accused of providing vodka during a bus ride to school in the spring, according to a nonbinding recommendation issued last week by a hearing examiner.

Philip Ashtianie, a freshman at River Hill High School, appealed his punishment in a rare public hearing last month by waiving his confidentiality rights. He has denied the allegation.

"We're very relieved," said his mother, Susan Ashtianie. "Although we knew the truth all along, we're glad that the hearing examiner was able to see it, too."

The Howard County Board of Education will hear closing arguments on the appeal before making a final determination. A hearing date has not been scheduled, said board chairman Courtney Watson, who has not received the hearing examiner's report.

"We will set it up as soon as possible," Watson said.

Hearing examiner Sue Ann Mahaffey, who listened to nine hours of testimony, was asked to determine two issues: whether school officials followed due process in Ashtianie's case and whether evidence supported the suspension.

Although Mahaffey determined that due process was followed, she found that Ashtianie "met his burden of proof and that the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the superintendent's decision to suspend" him for violating the school system's alcohol and drug policy.

Another eighth-grader, referred to as "Student A," accused Ashtianie of giving him a water bottle filled with vodka during a bus ride to school in May. Student A later recanted the allegation, then stuck by his original version of events.

Ashtianie was suspended for 10 days, and the investigation was referred to Craig Cummings, the coordinator of alternative education programs.

As the superintendent's designee in the case, Cummings extended Ashtianie's suspension to 45 days after reviewing the investigation. He was assigned to attend evening school.

Ashtianie has served 25 days of his suspension, and his remaining punishment has been delayed until the school board deliberates on the case.

Cummings, who was out of the office Friday, was unavailable for comment. Mark Blom, the school system's general counsel representing the superintendent, did not return telephone calls.

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