Fort Worth

Family Sues School District After Teen Punished for Drugs They Say Weren’t Hers

Punishment included an out-of-school suspension, classes at an alternative school and removal from the school's drill team, parents say

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A Fort Worth family is suing a school district after their daughter was suspended for marijuana found in her car -- drugs, they say, that do not belong to her.

Caroline Rhodes, 17, is a junior at V.R. Eaton High School in the Northwest Independent School District. Her mother, Brandy Rhodes, said she and her husband bought their daughter a used car in December but have not had a chance to have it detailed.

“We bought it late on a Sunday night and she needed it for school Monday morning. She gets up at 5 a.m. and I said, you know what? We’ll get it detailed later,” Rhodes recalled. “It had over 150,000 miles on it. I was told it had belonged to a college student. She drove back and forth to school and then you get busy. Detailing your teenager’s car just kind of, falls to the side.”

A Fort Worth family is suing a school district after their daughter was suspended for marijuana found in her car — drugs, they say, that do not belong to her.

The issue unfolded last week when Rhodes said security dogs were going through the school parking lot.

There was a hit on her daughter's car, the mother said.

“They dug through her car. They said they found marijuana under a seat. They have yet to tell me which seat. Caroline saw them digging around in the console. They folded the backseat up, so she knows they were kind of digging all over,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said the marijuana doesn’t belong to her daughter.

“The most obvious answer was the fact that we had the car for approximately two months,” she said. “By the time the administrator called me, she informed me that they found marijuana in Caroline’s car. It was a mandatory 3-day out-of-school suspension, a mandatory 45 days at DAEP and then she went so far as to say, she will be removed from the drill team and isn’t eligible to try out again next year.”

DAEP, according to the Northwest ISD website, is part of its Special Programs Center. It is an alternative school, according to court filings.

Rhodes said she took her daughter to get a drug test, which she said came out negative. However, she told NBC 5, school officials told her it would not make a difference in terms of punishment.

The family has retained Arlington-based attorney Frank Hill, who said the district’s policies are being unconstitutionally applied to the student’s case.

“If my client didn’t know it was there and had no intent to have it in her car, it seems a bit strange and harsh to say, we’ll going to get to punish you for that. Moreover, you don’t have any right to any kind of hearing before we do it,” Hill explained.

NBC 5 reached out to the Northwest ISD regarding their discipline policies. A spokesperson pointed us to their Code of Conduct, which includes a guide to the 2019-2020 Discipline Level System.

According to the guide, mandatory placements to DAEP apply to incidents involving false alarms or reports involving a public school or terroristic threat, assault with bodily injury, marijuana or controlled substances, dangerous drugs, alcohol, abusable volatile chemicals, public lewdness/indecent exposure, retaliation against any school employee and gang activities.

The family has filed a temporary restraining order against the district in hopes of allowing Caroline to return to school and the drill team while legal matters play out in court.

“She loves school. She’s always loved school. She never went through that awkward phase, where she didn’t want to go. I mean, that’s what she told me the other night. She said, I just want to go back to school,” Rhodes said. “She wants her life back, and I want her life back for her.”

The matter over the temporary restraining was expected to be heard in court Friday afternoon.

But the judge on the case has questions about whether she has jurisdiction and can step in to override the district’s disciplinary action.

She’s expected to make that determination Monday afternoon.

Brandy Rhodes says she’s a little disappointed. They were hoping to walk out of a Tarrant County Courtroom on Friday afternoon and get back to normal.

“She just wants to go back to school,” she said. “I would have loved to have taken her on Monday morning to eat and had her walk into her first-period class.”

Northwest ISD released the following statement to NBC 5: 

“Northwest ISD does not comment on pending litigation. The school district also cannot comment on matters that relate to private student records or information, in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

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NBC 5's Candace Sweat contributed to this report.

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