SHERRARD -- School board members Thursday night approved a $90,000 settlement with a family that sued the district after a student was expelled in for alleged drug paraphernalia.

Under the settlement with Elizabeth Earl, the unnamed student's mother, $67,625 -- about 75 percent of the total -- will go for attorney fees; $4,000 for medical claims; and $18,375 for damages.

According to court records, an 11th grade student listed only as "N.E." asked a school official in April to help remove an unknown lock from his locker. When opened, the locker was found to contain a marijuana pipe.

Because of the paraphernalia, school officials expelled the student for the remainder of the last school year and all of this school year. The student claimed to have no knowledge of the paraphernalia. No criminal charges were brought against him and no drugs were found to be in his system. 

Court records state the board moved forward with the expulsion on April 27, five hours after notifying his parents of the meeting, which, they said, did not provide them not providing enough time to prepare. The family's lawsuit against the district, filed in Rock Island County Circuit Court, later was moved at the district's request to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

The suit alleged school officials violated the student's 14th Amendment rights, refused to allow him to participate in a substance abuse program in lieu of expulsion, and acted "intentionally, willfully and/or in callous or reckless disregard" for the student's rights. It also alleged the expulsion was "an extraordinary departure from established norms resulting in a decision that 'shocks the conscience' and is 'unjustified by any governmental interest.'”

On July 22, Judge Sara Darrow allowed the student to return to Sherrard High School this fall until a resolution was reached.

On Thursday, school board president Leslie Anderson said the settlement is designed to offer both parties a fresh start.

"Let's clean the slate," she said. "Let's move forward in a positive direction and put the distractions aside.

"The settlement is not an admission the district did anything wrong," Ms. Anderson said. "It was an economic decision, just like we had with the McGuire case.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Anderson announced Sherrard school officials had agreed to pay $95,587.63 to settle a lawsuit by Colin and Brandi McGuire, of Coyne Center, who alleged the district prevented a service dog named Jasper from accompanying their epileptic daughter, Kellsey, to school. Citing a "hostile environment," the family enrolled the girl in Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island.

As in the Earl settlement, 75 percent of the McGuire settlement -- $73,500 -- was designated for attorney costs. The remainder was designated for tuition, travel costs and damages.

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On Thursday, Ms. Earl said their settlement was "kind of a new beginning" for her son, but that money could not fix what was taken from him.

“All along, all we ever wanted was for him to be able to complete his education," she said. "We knew that our son had been wrongfully accused of something. We never wanted to take it this far.

"There’s no amount of money in the world that can give us back what they took away from our son," Ms. Earl said. "He missed his prom. He missed his junior year of baseball. There are colleges that we have letters from; he missed out on those opportunities."

In other action Thursday, school board members approved hiring Alan Boucher as superintendent starting Oct. 1. Currently superintendent of Mercer County Schools, his total salary at Sherrard will be just over $165,000.

"I think Alan (Boucher) understands our district, and he understands where we’re at today, and where we’d like to be," said Ms. Anderson. "We’re very excited that (he) will bring some expertise to our district.”

Former Sherrard superintendent Samuel P. Light resigned Aug. 2 to become a school superintendent in Lincoln County, Ga.

The board on Thursday also:

-- Approved a three-year contract with teachers that has annual increases averaging slightly more than 3 percent. The pact has a total economic impact of $650,000 over that time, school officials said.

-- Approved hiring aides for the third grade at Winola Grade School because of parents' concerns about class sizes.

-- Reinstated a previously expelled high school student with provisions he meet with a counselor and comply with the district’s cellphone provisions.


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