#FreeRaul trending in support of Salem high school senior accused of smoking pot
Hundreds of South Salem High School students are pushing back against school administrators in support of their friend accused of smoking marijuana before prom.
Raul Villarreal said administrators and a school police officer harassed and pressured him into confessing to being high even though he says he wasn't. Villarreal was kicked out of prom, suspended and told he isn't allowed to walk on stage for graduation. Villarreal says he took a drug test four days after prom and showed KATU negative drug test results, but the school denied his appeal.
"After we got a for sure no through the appeal process, I was like, all right, people need to know about this," said Villarreal's friend Luis Mendoza-Landa. He gathered 575 signatures for a petition in one school day and started the hash tag on Twitter #FreeRaul. "It was like wildfire."
"It makes the punishment seem a little less severe," said Villarreal in response to the public outcry. "I know the community I'm in right now is so helpful and so supportive."
Villarreal and Mendoza-Landa turned in the petition to South Salem Principal David Phelps Monday morning. By the afternoon, the principal responded that the school will not be changing any of the consequences.
"Wow, I didn't think they would do that," Villarreal said. "This is just super disappointing."
Phelps said he cares about the students' opinions but has details he can't release due to student privacy laws. He still believes the school's drug policy was broken.
"They certainly have a right to express themselves," Phelps said about the petition. "It certainly saddens my heart to have to deal with something like this so close to graduation."
When asked about the negative drug test results, Phelps said he reviewed them.
"Not being a medical expert, I'll dismiss my ability to make a judgment on that," he said. "In my mind, I go back to the original contact that happened."
A letter from the school denying his appeal says Villarreal showed signs of being under the influence when he walked into prom. Villarreal says he was just nervous because he's never been pressured by so many people.
Now, he and his dad are deciding whether to appeal to the Salem-Keizer School Board.
"We talked to our lawyer and he said nine times out of 10, you won't win," Villarreal said. "It doesn't make any sense to me."