A bizarre comedy of errors at a Minnesota high school led last week to a popular 17-year-old girl with no previous discipline problems — and who earlier came to the aid of a bullied fellow student — being expelled from school for an entire year. And despite a public outcry, the local school board won’t back down. They say Alyssa Drescher broke the rules, so now she’s out.
The maddening episode began earlier this month when police brought a drug-sniffing dog into United South Central High School in Well, Minnesota, to carry out random checks for drugs. When the dog sniffed Alyssa, it smelled her perfume — and for some reason mistook the scent for an illegal substance of some kind.
That led police to instruct Alyssa to open her locker and take out her purse. Inside the purse, the cops found a bottle of perfume but no drugs.
What they did find was a pocket knife that, Alyssa says, she left in her purse by mistake, after using it to do chores on her boyfriend’s farm.
“They smelled perfume, and they had to check my purse and they found my pocket knife,” the teen told WCCO TV. “It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.”
At first, the school principal handed her a three-day suspension — which seemed fair enough because she did break the rules, even if it was by accident.
But then Superintendent Jerry Jensen stepped in, the matter went to the school board and last Thursday, board members voted unanimously to expel the college-bound Alyssa for a full 12 months under the school’s “zero tolerance” policy.
The decision left the friendly teenager in tears and filled with worry about her future.
“Everyone says that your senior year is the best and now I’m terrified I’m going to miss out on mine,” she said. “And especially being able to get into a good college and have a bright future ahead of me.”
Her father, Rick Drescher, was so outraged that he demanded that Thursday’s hearing be open to the public, though normally issues of suspensions and expulsions are kept behind closed doors.
At the hearing, Drescher’s attorney grilled Jensen, causing the superintendent to admit that the school has “flexibility” to alter the zero-tolerance policy on a case-by-case basis. But the board voted to kick Alyssa out anyway.
A Facebook page has been opened to support Alyssa, and her family plans to appeal the board’s decision. But the testimony of one fellow student speaks more about Alyssa than anything else.
Ryan Lacher, a victim of bullying at the school, said that Alyssa came to his side, against his tormenters.
“She really helped me know there are people who do care,” said Lacher.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, July 21, more than a year after Alyssa Drescher was expelled from school, throwing her life into turmoil, a Minnesota appeals court finally overturned the surreal punishment, saying that the school district disregarded the fact that the teen did not “willfully” violate school rules.
Under the school’s own regulations, a student must show willful intent to break the rules in order to merit an expulsion.
“The school district is compelled to follow the letter of the law,” said Drescher’s attorney, Andrea Jepsen. “It cannot play fast and loose with the language of the law when it’s depriving somebody of something so important.”
The court also said that the school should have considered that Drescher did not “endanger” anyone with the pocket knife, because it never left her purse inside her locker until authorities searched and found it there.
As for Drescher — she’s just glad that the ordeal is finally in her past. “It was kind of like a relief,” she told a local TV Station. “It’s just like finally over with.”
The school district refused to comment on the Alyssa Drescher decision, saying it was considering further legal options in the case.