By Sasha Rawlinson, 16, El Segundo
My life got turned upside down when I was brought into the assistant principal’s office during my sophomore year. While I was taking a math test, a campus security guard burst into my classroom, grabbed my backpack, and said: “Let’s go.” Without any explanation, he led me to the main office, where I was immediately surrounded by three armed police officers, an administrator, and the security guard.
They told me an anonymous posting on a social media app called Burnbook claimed that I was selling marijuana. The school officials and police officers interrogated me about whether I sold marijuana or knew anybody who sold marijuana. They did this all based on a vague and fake posting they found online.
It was like a scene from a TV show. They kept me isolated and kept telling me I was in a lot of trouble. They said the more I talked, the better it would be for me. It made me spill my guts, because I was scared and just wanted to prove that I hadn’t done anything. After over an hour of constant, intense questioning, I eventually admitted that I had smoked marijuana off campus several times and I told them what I knew about marijuana on campus. They never once explained my rights to me or offered to call my mom.
I live in Los Angeles, but got an inter-district permit to attend school in El Segundo to get away from bullying and find a better education so I could do better in school and go to college. When I was called into the office, I thought they were just going to tell me to improve my grades, which had gone down a little, partly because I have a learning disability.
After the ordeal was over, they finally called my mom and she came to school right away. They said they would not suspend me if I withdrew my permit and dis-enrolled from the school. My mom and I did just that, but the school suspended me anyway, claiming that I had sold drugs—even though I hadn’t.
After the incident, I chose to re-enroll in my El Segundo school. I wanted to face my problems head on and prove to everybody that they couldn’t scare me away since I didn’t do anything wrong.
When I returned, everyone at school knew about my police encounter. School staff gave me a cold reception, and I was bullied by older and influential lacrosse players for talking to the police about marijuana. They made me take off the team jersey when I wore it in school, would whisper “snitch” when I was in class or the bathroom, and told me that I couldn’t sit in the common area during lunch. During the team’s end of year party, I was told that I wasn’t welcome. I had to walk several miles home by himself in the middle of the night.
I also fell behind academically. While struggling with depression triggered by the incident, I was not able to make up several weeks’ worth of lessons, so I ended up failing several classes. I probably can’t go to four-year college next year because of all the time I lost.
I never thought something like this could happen to me. I was attending a school in a nice neighborhood, was doing my best to be a good student, and didn’t break any school rules, so this is proof that student rights can be violated anywhere.
I only wish I had known that I didn’t have to answer questions from police or school officials, and that I could have asked for my mom to be present during the questioning. I’m telling my story now because I want all students to know that it’s important for them to protect themselves and to know their rights at school.