NORTH CANTON, Ohio-- The father of a local football player is taking his son's high school to court, claiming his suspension from the team is too harsh. The student was benched for the rest of the season for having an electronic cigarette on school grounds.
Hoover High School junior A.J. Vega is in his first year playing on the Vikings' varsity football team. On Oct. 4, according to this disciplinary letter, the North Canton teen was given a two-day, in-school suspension for violating the school's policy regarding tobacco.
"A.J. was playing basketball at the school and a vape pen, you know, one of those electronic cigarettes, I guess, fell out of his pocket... One of the coaches came up. They asked him, 'Is this yours?' He admitted it," said family attorney Warner Mendenhall.
A.J.'s family filed a civil lawsuit against the school after learning that, in addition to the suspension, he would be prevented from playing football for the rest of the season. The teen's parents said they agree he should be punished. But the lawsuit claims benching A.J. for the season does not correspond to the code of conduct handbook.
"He was disciplined in school under the tobacco policy, but then he was disciplined for his extra curricular activities for a chemical abuse policy," said Mendenhall.
The lawsuit does not dispute the school's policy that tobacco, including e-cigarettes and vapor pens are prohibited on school grounds. But it points to a punishment policy for extra-curricular activities that states in-season violations will result in, "Immediate suspension from 10 percent of the interscholastic sport or activity."
"The students last year and for many years before, if they had a tobacco-related violation or a vape violation, they were suspended for usually one game," the attorney said.
The North Canton superintendent would not comment. But the lawsuit includes a letter from the principal stating the district's policy that playing sports is a "privilege and not a right" and an athlete "may be prohibited from participating in all or part of any interscholastic sport for violations."
"Their policies themselves are not clear," Mendenhall said.
The case will be heard at 11 a.m. Friday in Stark County Common Pleas Court.
Mendenhall said there are eight other student athletes at Hoover in similar situations.
A.J. has, so far, sat out three games. Friday is the last game of the regular season.
His father said he is not looking for money from the district, but he wants his son back on the field and wants the rules and punishments clarified.