HONEOYE FALLS — A student at Honeoye Falls-Lima High School accused of setting off a bomb scare vowed to fight the school system’s decision that she was responsible, and a lengthy suspension from school for it.
"I was mad,” she said. “I was more mad than scared because I knew that I didn't do it and they were trying to accuse me of it."
The student, who News 10NBC is not identifying, admitted she was indeed scared on Oct. 1 when the school was suddenly locked down over a message found on a bathroom wall.
The message, written in magic marker, declared, “I’m gonna BOMB this school. Just you wait.” Life at Honeoye Falls-Lima High got back to normal after the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office found no bomb, but for one student, the situation got worse three days later when she was accused of writing the message.
Her lawyer James Cole accused school officials of rushing to judgment too quickly in an attempt to put an embarrassing incident in the past rather than waiting for a thorough probe by professionals.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office confirmed it was looking into the bomb scare, but said that investigation was not yet completed. Cole blasted school administrators saying they could easily wait for conclusive answers once that investigation was done.
"Administrators in schools,” Cole said, “they are not trained to conduct investigations regarding possible criminal activities. That's not part of the job function.”
"They are blaming a person that didn't do it and the actual person is still in the school walking around,” the student said.
Cole said the school system offered the accused student an opportunity to admit to writing the message and apologize in exchange for a short, five-day suspension but she refused.
“I didn’t want to confess to something I didn’t do,” she said.
“To me, it screams that they were hoping that she would admit to it,” Cole added. “They could close it and be done with it and sealed, and they could move onto the next problem. I would hope every parent in the community would agree, there is nothing worse than a child being accused of something that they didn’t do.”
With that, the case went to a special “Superintendent’s Hearing,” for offenses warranting more than a five-day suspension, presided over by a hearing officer provided by BOCES.
In that proceeding, the student was judged guilty and suspended until Jan. 27, cutting her off from class, volleyball and even homecoming.
While not the same as a trial, such a hearing functions as a fact-finding process leading to a decision on punishment if an accused student is judged guilty. As spelled out in the Code of Conduct for the Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School District, “The hearing officer shall make findings of fact and recommendations as to the appropriate measure of discipline to the Superintendent. The report of the hearing officer shall be advisory only, and the Superintendent may accept all or any part thereof.”
Also unlike a trial, such hearings allow different rules for evidence, witness testimony and burden of proof, which Cole said short-changes students’ ability to get due process and a fair hearing.
“It’s kind of the Wild West,” he said. “Unfortunately schools take advantage of that. They know that the burden of proof is much lower at these types of hearings. They know that they can get away with permitting certain evidence, hearsay, improper opinion testimony.”
BOCES said the hearing officer who presided over the case can't discuss it. A statement from the Honeoye Falls-Lima School District’s Superintendent Gene Mancuso said, "The Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School District is prohibited under Federal Law from disclosing any information about particular student discipline matters.”
Mancuso’s statement went on to say "I can assure you that the District evenly enforces its code of conduct for all students and affords each student their due process permitted under the law."
Cole said he and the student would appeal the decision to the district’s board of education, probably at its Nov. 26 meeting.
The student said she looked forward to forcing a change out of the school system, and an apology.
“I would just want to hear that they are very sorry for this and that they would hopefully do it different next time so it wouldn’t happen again,” she said.