Raul Villarreal, a senior at South Salem High School in Oregon, was about to walk into his prom when he was stopped. Mr. Villarreal says school administrators and a school resource officer believed he was high and questioned him for several minutes. Though he claims he’s never consumed marijuana,Mr. Villarreal relented and confessed to breaking the rules even though he was innocent. As he told KPTV FOX 12 Oregon, “They were kind of implying to me that everything would work out easier if I just said I did it, like all of this could just go away.” It didn’t go away.
After he gave in and confessed, Mr. Villarreal was sent home. The honors student and wrestling team captain would then learn he was suspended for five days and banned from various high school events, including graduation. It’s a hefty punishment for someone who insists he has never smoked marijuana. To prove his innocence, he took a drug test at a nearby clinic. He then faxed the results, which came back negative, to his high school. It doesn’t appear that South Salem High School will reverse its decision, however.
In an interview with KGW-TV, Principal David Phelps told the station that the school had “clear evidence” that Mr. Villarreal was under the influence on prom night and that his appeal had been denied. Students have rallied behind their classmate, signing a petition, and getting “#FreeRaul” to trend on Twitter. Mr. Phelps then responded with a statement (PDF), which read, in part:
“I want to reassure our students and staff that our Administration values fairness and are dedicated to making sure that when we conclude that a student is under the influence, we have clear evidence of what the truth is at the time of the occurrence…We appreciate that you are trying to help a friend. However, student discipline incidents are private matters, by law, that need to be solved through the student and their parents working together with the school. If any student feels that a discipline consequence is unfair, they and their parents need to work within the appeals and complaint processes…Even when a student tells the public their side of the story, the school is still not allowed to share private details in public that might provide more context for the fairness of the decision…”
According to the Statesman Journal, who first reported the story, “Phelps declined to comment on the apparent discrepancy between what Villareal [sic] initially admitted and the results of the drug test.” A letter from Mr. Phelps to Mr. Villarreal’s parents claims that Salem Police Officer Rob Johnston determined that the student was under the influence of marijuana because of symptoms that consisted of, “rapid eye tremors, reduced cognitive functioning, red conjunctiva.”
Villarreal will still graduate, is still set to attend Western Oregon University in the fall, and has already served his suspension. Still, though, he is stinging from missing out on the commencement ceremony, telling the Statesman Journal, "I'm not going to get that memory back. I don’t feel I deserve that.”