Dad presses ahead with suit against Everett schools

EVERETT – Christine Lewis realizes she made a mistake in March when she handed out over-the-counter cold tablets to a friend at Everett High School.

The friend came back for more of the remedy, Coricidin, and swallowed them.

Later, the friend went to the school nurse, feeling ill.

The trail led back to Christine, 14.

Just handing out the pills is against school policy, and Christine at first was expelled. The punishment later became a suspension for the rest of the school year.

Now her father doesn’t think she got a fair shake, and he’s asked a federal court judge to rule that the high school and Everett School District violated Christine’s rights.

The state is required to provide students with an education, and the school didn’t offer some less severe punishment, Robby Lewis said in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

“Her constitutional rights were trampled on, and other students, too, because other students have been suspended for the same thing,” said Lewis, a Seattle resident who works as a legal assistant for an administrative law judge.

Not only is dispensing over-the-counter medications to other students against Everett School District policy, but it also is against state law, district superintendent Carol Whitehead said.

“It’s against the law to have medications at school unless they are prescribed,” Whitehead said. “If a doctor prescribes it, it has to be kept in the office.”

What has Lewis upset is the process through which his daughter was suspended. Among other things, he said his daughter was wrongfully detained in the school office while Everett police were called, and that he was not allowed to question witnesses during the hearing that led to his daughter’s lengthy suspension.

Neither his daughter nor his ex-wife are enthusiastic about the lawsuit.

“I don’t know why he has a lawsuit out,” said Janeane Bradford, his ex-wife. “Christine doesn’t want to be involved in it. It’s her dad who’s pursuing it. She just wants to go on.”

Christine said she was aware of the district’s policy when she gave her friend the cold medication.

“I wasn’t thinking and when (the other student) asked me for it I gave it to her,” she said. Christine said she will have to attend summer school or an alternative school to make up credits.

So what does she think of the lawsuit?

“I just think it’s not worth it because I did something I wasn’t supposed to and (the school) did what they were supposed to do,” she said.

Her father said that Christine doesn’t understand her constitutional rights and how he believes they were violated.

“The reason why I’m handling the lawsuit is because I understand what’s at stake,” Lewis said. “I struggled with my education to get where I am.”

In the suit, Lewis alleges that the hearing process that led to the final punishment was flawed partly because a taped recording of the hearing was incomplete, and the hearing officer didn’t have a chance to review that part of the discussion while contemplating the case.

Whitehead, the district superintendent, said she can’t talk about any specific case.

“People don’t think it’s fair sometimes if they don’t get the answer they want,” Whitehead said. “We have worked with the hearing officer for a long time and we know he’s competent.”

Lewis said he has no beef with the hearing officer, just school policies and what he believes are violations of his daughter’s rights that resulted in the suspension.

He can’t get lost school time back for his daughter, “but you can get justice,” he said. “For me, it’s a matter of what the law says.”

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or

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