NEWS- Turnabout: Student suspended after reporting friend

At a recent football game, 16-year-old Monticello High School junior Brittany Carson realized that a good friend had been drinking. She decided to report it– and wound up learning a powerful lesson, finding herself among the five students suspended in the incident.

Brittany's father, Kevin Carson, is so incensed by the 10-day penalty that he has retained a lawyer and has rented billboard space and daily newspaper advertising space to warn parents that Albemarle County schools know no bounds in punishment.

The story began before the September 29 game against Charlottesville High School when Brittany, a member of the Monticello color guard, was sitting with some band members at a table in the school cafeteria.

"Someone came up with an orange juice bottle and offered me some," she says. She took a sip and smelled the alcohol. "I put the top on the bottle and went on my way," she says.

At the game later that night, another friend approached her and said, "'Smell my breath,'" recalls Brittany. "She was reeking of alcohol, and she drove that night. If she'd had an accident, I'd never forgive myself."

Brittany didn't report the incident immediately, but later she consulted the color guard captain, who, on October 3, emailed the coach with details of the drinking.

An investigation ensued, and Brittany was shocked at the result: "They turned around and suspended me," she says.

According to Brittany's dad, this wasn't just a case of zero tolerance– but zero evidence. He believes students implicated Brittany for speaking out.

"Because there was no evidence of who or what had gone on– just hearsay– they chose to suspend all of the students involved for 10 days," says her father.

Kevin Carson, who says he was at the game that night and talked to his daughter when she came home, is convinced she didn't drink. He's proud of Brittany, he says, because "she said no."

The Carsons and other parents criticize the way assistant principal Jim Asher handled the investigation– they say he's sending a clear message: that students risk suspension if they report illegal activities.

"I was never innocent until proven guilty," says Brittany. "He suspended me on hearsay, with no evidence. He talked to 20 people, but not all of them were there. They said, 'I hear...' And he had it all written on little bits of paper." 

Asher questioned Brittany twice about the incident. "He said, 'I don't know if I believe you, so it's in Mr. [principal Billy] Haun's hands," she says.

Asher did not return phone calls from the Hook.

Kevin Carson says Haun told him the school's zero-tolerance policy gave them no choice but to suspend Brittany. Carson disagrees with the interpretation and appealed Brittany's suspension to the superintendent's office, where Tom McLernon, hearing officer for Albemarle County schools, upheld the suspension. Kevin and Brittany Carson say he praised Brittany for doing the right thing– and then said he had to uphold the school policy.

"I denied the appeal on the basis of the testimony brought to me by the assistant principal, who'd made several investigations," says McLernon. "Here was a little girl who was doing a friend a favor, but that didn't excuse her for what she did."

As for the Carsons' belief that Brittany's suspension was the result of hearsay, particularly from the girls she told on, McLernon responds, "Heavens no. That's not true. Not when we've got proof." And the proof? "Testimony from witnesses," he says.

Kevin Carson is upset that he had no appeal beyond McLernon, and that his phone calls to Superintendent Pam Moran were not returned– although Moran did send him an email and a letter.

Moran had not returned the Hook's phone call by press time.

Sean Fry, 16, was suspended in the same incident. "Two kids didn't know what was in the bottle they drank from, and they were punished the same as people who willingly drank and brought it," says Yolie Williams, Fry's mother.

"It's the worst thing my son has ever gone through," she says. He "felt it didn't matter what he said."

Williams says her son, a junior, is an honor roll student who has his heart set on going to music school. "We're all just devastated," she says. "This child does not get in trouble."

Both Fry and Carson are taking four advanced classes, and worry about missing 10 days of class as well as the blot on their school records.

Brittany Carson says she's not sure she'll remain at Monticello because she fears this incident could happen again. And in the course of investigating this story, the Hook heard from another former Monticello High students who says he unknowingly was given alcohol– and then suspended.

Hook photographer Will Walker was a sophomore at MHS in 2001. After a football game, he went to a school dance where, he says, a kid gave him a clear Deer Park water bottle to hold while he went to the bathroom. 

"The principal came up and said,'You're coming with me; that's moonshine,'" recounts Walker, who still maintains he had no idea what was in the bottle. Although he says he blew 0.0 on a breathalyzer test, he was nevertheless suspended for 15 days for possession of alcohol. "I was livid at the time," Walker remembers.

Brittany Carson says Haun told her that two mentally retarded students were given Coke cans that, unbeknownst to them, had illicit substances in them– and they were suspended, too.

Haun did not return the Hook's phone calls.

"I have no respect for public schools," says Brittany Carson. "I said, 'What do I have to do to prove to you that I'm telling the truth?'"

Kevin Carson has not ruled out the possibility of litigation. He wants to see the policy changed so that kids like Brittany are not suspended on the testimony of others– and then not allowed to know who those witnesses are. 

He believes there should be physical evidence of possession and use, and that guidelines for dealing with instances of false accusations should be clear.

As a result of this situation, Carson says, he's setting up a nonprofit watchdog group dedicated to overseeing the policies of administrators in the Albemarle County school system.

Kevin Carson vows to fight the system that suspended his daughter, Brittany, after she turned in a friend for drinking.



After the bomb plot brouhaha , why am it not surprised by this? Wonder when another student will report a classmate they fear might come to harm?
Zero Tolerance= Zero Common Sense

After the bomb plot brouhaha , why am I not surprised by this? Wonder when another student will report a classmate they fear might come to harm?
Zero Tolerance= Zero Common Sense

It says that she took a sip, so why is her father so CONVINCED that she didn't?

And why is this an attack on Mr. Asher. He did what an authority figure needs to do which is treat everyone who took a sip fairly, whether they knew what they were drinking or not. These kids have learned their lesson, do not take a drink of what you do not know. Haven't they heard stories of kids drinking things unknown to them and then getting hurt?

Some things are common sense.

Now these students know the consequences and will not do it again, but it is completely unfair to blame anything on the administration.

Don't you think there is a difference between someone who chooses to drink alcohol, and someone who accepts a sip from a friend, and does not realize it is spiked?
Happened to me as a Uva student, as a matter of fact.
Not defending high school students who drink, but rather questioning inflexible rules and administrators who apply them without taking into account the circumstances.
Suppose someone planted illegal drugs in your home or car. Thimk it would be fair to be tried, convicted and sentenced for possession, even though you didnt know they were there?
And finally, as has been the case for a long time, there are school admininistrators who pride themselves on being hardnosed.Assuming they are telling the truth, my sympathies are totally with Brittany and her father.

"As for the Carsons' belief that Brittany's suspension was the result of hearsay, particularly from the girls she told on, McLernon responds, "Heavens no. That's not true. Not when we've got proof." And the proof? "Testimony from witnesses," he says."

Since when has having witnesses not counted as proof? Isn't this how we condemn people in our court system? Don't we call witnesses to the stand?


But a main idea of this article is that this girl has been unfairly suspended due to hearsay: ie, she was suspended by "word of mouth" or because of what other people are saying, TESTIMONIALS. Witnesses.

Yes folks, let's reiterate. There were witnesses.

Then an article is written based on the word of one person. ONE PERSON. HER. Interesting.

Isn't that just contradicting yourself? It's unfair that because other people said she drank, she is suspended. Well, I think it's unfair that this article gets to be published based on HER word without the input of other parties. Who says she isn't lying?

I would kind of like to know how Brittany "smelled" the vodka when, once more common knowledge, VODKA HAS NO SMELL?

Yes, I know it was vodka. I'm friends with one of the people who was suspended. [But realized that she was being justly punished and has accepted it and tried to move on.] She told me what really happened.

One last point: If Brittany was so worried about her friend, who "reeked of vodka" [DESPITE VODKA NOT HAVING A SMELL???] driving drunk, why didn't she tell her father, who was at the game that night, right away? Why did she let this "drunk" friend drive ANOTHER friend home? If she cared so much and would never forgive herself if her friend died in some fiery explosion, why didn't she tell her father IMMEDIATELY and let him handle it?

As a parent of a teen in Monticello High School, what message does this send to them? Do I tell the authorities and then which authority, School Admin! We all know there are two sides to every story but the admin is/has made a statement unfortunately makes the teen unwilling to tell on someone else or event in fear of what might happen to them. Is that what we want to portray. Haven’t we all heard of enough violence around the country, I don’t need to start naming the incidents? not to long ago Albemarle lost an athlete to drinking. I would be willing to bet that there was a student there but afraid to tell what was going on for fear of what would happen to them. Granted the outcome (suspension and who) might have been different if it would have been address at that time and not days later. Admin needs to think more before acting and being so hard nosed, not just here but at other aspects of administration duties as well.

Tattletales never win...

I'm not trying to start some huge controversy but i've heard all the many tales of this adventure and aftering takinging all the facts I just have one thing to say.

You should know this is all a lie.
So think about your vote in the sympathy category.

I sympathize with the Carsons' frustration over their experience and fervently hope that this publicity will bring attention to the extreme inflexibility of the Albemarle County Schools' zero tolerance policy. Treating all offenders exactly the same--regardless of the circumstances or any mitigating factors--is Draconian and would never be accepted in an adult court of law. When a student who gives a friend a sample of his prescription anti-anxiety medicine (admittedly, very poor judgment) is treated the same as someone who brings an illegal drug on campus to sell, something is very wrong. Unfortunately, only those who personally experience the helpless feeling of injustice created by these policies can truly fathom the absurdity. Young lives are being greatly harmed by the miscarriage of justice known as "zero tolerance."

Good points, advocate. Something else I'd like to add. Way back in the Pleistocene, before all the present foolishness started, I did some substitute teaching. Once when I had a bad headache I bummed some tylenol or something off one of my high school students.
I shudder to think about the consequences of doing that now. We'd both be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
"I can hear you well, George Orwell"
-Michael Elwood, "The Drug On Wars"

If you believe that girl's story then I have some magic beans for sale. Buy one get one free!

Kudos to the school system. Well done.

Shame on the Hook. This is tabloid quality work.

Now on to some real news.

Brittany's lying. She never turned anyone in. She drank. She got caught. She deserves 10 days for drinking.

Not only does she deserve the punishment she got, she deserves another one for lying to the administration, and one for lying to the school board and one more for lying to the press. As for cutting down Monticello High School administration for doing their job, well that's just immature and rude.

Perhaps Mr. Carson simply can't accept, like many parents, that their child could ever do anything to place a smudge mark on their angelic record.

On the zero tolerance policy at MHS, there aren't many other options for how to handle this kind of issue. Unless the guilty party is caught while they would still have something in their systems, physical evidence, the ONLY way to identify who is guilty is to ask students and staff who were there, which is exactly what the administrators and Monticello did and exactly what would happen in our court system. Once the murderer has washed the blood of their hands, the jury can only base their decision on who the neighbors saw going in and out of the house.

Also, as far as your photographer, Mr Walker, the posession of alcohol or illegal substances by a minor is ILLEGAL, and possesion on school grounds by ANYONE is illegal. Perhaps he should have reported the student who handed him the bottle so that at least he would have some company in the library while making up all of the work he missed during his suspension.

I hope that the next time you write a story you will be sure to have the correct information before it is published, rather than have your reputation as a reporter scarred for having totally incorrect statements composing your entire story. Perhaps you should not blame the MHS administration for their decision based on "hear-say" when you published an entire article on one angry little girl and her father's point of view. Next time, get both sides or DON'T PUBLISH THE PIECE.

If the young lady of the story has lied to The Hook, shame on her and shame on The Hook for publishing an unverified story. From what I've heard, your reporter should have interviewed some of the other students involved to get a balanced picture of what actually happened.

But none of that changes the inherent injustice of the zero tolerance policy with its one-punishment-fits-all consequences.

This is a very one sided article. How could you print only one side. Having some newspaper expereience I know that all sides of a story should be examined and taken into consideration before the final article is printed. Stating that the administration did not return calls by press time is a cop out. As a reporter you dropped the ball when it comes to fair journalism. Did you even try to speak with the color guard captain? You should have taken into account that due to privacy policies Asher or Haun would not be at liberty to discuss who the others were. This makes Brittany's comment about Haun's statement concerning 2 mentally challenged students very questionable.
AS for Brittany's father, I'm sure he is standing up for his daughter in a way that any concerned parent would. However, Mr. Carson was once a teenager. How many half truths did he tell his parents to keep himself out of trouble. Many teenagers have been busted for smoking and / or drinking and then tried to convince their parents that they were wronged. Well congratulations Brittany you did it! You have painted yourself as a victim and portrayed those who are charged with keeping you and other students safe as a bunch of heartless people. Trust me, the administration is not in the field of education for the money! It takes heart and patience to be an educator. One last comment, I am glad to hear that Mr. Carson was at the game, what great support for his child's school. However, your article stated that he spoke with Brittany when she arrived home and Brittany seemed just fine. If Brittany was so bothered by the drinking of her friends why did she not go to her father at the game? Why did she wait until she was suspended to even bring the incident up to him? She obvioiusly had plenty of time to discuss it with him while they talked once she returned home that night.Perhaps Mr. Carson's should also invest some money in educating our children about the dangers of drug use, and yes, alcohol is a drug!

The Hook is so biased it is painful to read. Everyone is so hot to criticize authority, no-one stops to think. Maybe those Hollywood stereotypes you are immersed in don't fit in this instance.

Props to the Former Student. I completely agree. I have nothing more to say in response to this nonsense of an article other than that I am deeply disappointed in the Hook for it's willingness to induce an outrage to gain publicity. Information from ONE whiney high school girl and her father? Congratulations on presenting a fair argument. And as for your slander of Jim Asher...I'd just like to announce to the world that Jim Asher has been the most respectable and fair administrator I have encountered throughout my public school career. I stand firmly by any decision he makes, as I know him to be a concerned and intelligent man, one not prone to rash unfairness and thoughtlessness as the hook so easily portrays him.

I hope you'll learn a lesson from this, Hook.

To the "think before you act" parent of a teen at MHS. YOU are one of the problems here! You HAVE NO IDEA what really happened. You AND Lisa Provence. Before you make the statements you make, I suggest you do a little more research. This is not a case of being hard nosed, it's a case of doing EXACTLY WHAT IS CALLED FOR. There is NO DOUBT in my mind, the administration acted appropriately. You are no better than the journalist that decided to write this article without knowing the FACTS. I know for a FACT, Brittany isn't telling the truth. They really don't want to go to court with this because they WILL be made into fools....I PROMISE. Mr. Carson will make a big mistake for Brittany's image as well as his own if he goes this route. Do yourselves a favor and fade out of the limelight you seem to crave.

In regards to the Hook, this makes me question ALL of your jounalistic integrity and who you are hiring. I now view this as simply an entertainment piece not to be taken seriously. Do us all a favor and keep the trash in the Enquirer. I would be more than happy to send Lisa Provence an application.

To Jim Asher: I'm sorry you have to go through this. You are a wonderful person and completely fair with everyone. I have tremendous respect for you.

To Billy Haun: You are doing a wonderful job as principal. It's often a thankless position with people only showing up at your door when they have an "issue" and not to come by and thank you for your dedication. I am now taking the time to do this publicly.

MHS is a wonderful place thanks to the both of you as well as everyone that surrounds you in that building. It's a shame a journalist decides to write a slanderous article and it's a shame people comment negatively on the administration without simply knowing the facts. I do know them and they have my support.

I wonder how many more people will have to approach this girl in the hall and ask "So what, now you're lying to the press?" before she breaks down and admits that SHE MADE A MISTAKE.

And by "a" I mean several.

First? Lying to her father. Second? Lying to the administration, and, in particular, Jim Asher. Third? Lying to the press.

Three times guilty.

This is not a news piece. It's an opinion with a bunch of angry quotes thrown in for effect.

Mr. Asher is the most wonderful administrator I've ever been in contact with. He is intelligent, fair, concerned with the well-being of others, and essentially one of the most wonderful people I know.

This article is unfair to him, and unfair to all of the people who read this article and take it as truth simply because they don't go to Monticello and don't know any better.

who wants some orange juice? yea pass me the bottle that sounds great...