Student suspended for bringing cough syrup to school

Art McFarland has the exclusive story
April 3, 2014 3:04:26 PM PDT
A student at the prestigious Frederick Douglas Academy II in Harlem was suspended for 30 days for bringing cough syrup to school.

The school later reduced the student's suspension, but now there are calls for a change in the way it's handled in the future.

Tavian Williams was sent back to school this week, after serving an eight-day suspension.

The ninth grade honor student says he drank non-alcoholic medication from a soda bottle in the cafeteria, not wanting to bring attention to the fact that he was sick. But he was confronted by suspicious teachers.

"At first I said it was Kool-Aid, then I just straightforward, I just gave it to them. I was like, it's cough syrup," said Tavian. "They said I was good. I could go back to class. Then next day I got a suspension letter."

He says the recommended suspension was for 30 days.

The Department of Education confirms the suspension was cut short, after a hearing.

Although Tavian is back in school and working to make up for the time he lost, we're told he might still be on suspension had he not been represented by the not-for-profit Advocates for Children.

"This is a case that unfortunately we see too often, where it's typical of a school culture where suspension is really the first option instead of the last resort," said attorney Bernard Dufresne.

And advocates say black students are disproportionately affected. According to figures for the 2012-2013 school year, there were more than 53,000 total suspensions and over 11,000 so-called superintendent's suspensions, which are longer than five days.

Although black students are only 27 percent of the total school population, they were suspended almost 53 percent of the time.

"High school students that are suspended even once, reduce their chances of graduating in 4 years by 46 per cent," said Dufresne.