A black student was suspended and later expelled from an Ohio high school—not for possessing or using marijuana—but after multiple school employees agreed that he smelled like the substance. While the student’s parent has questioned the legal or ethical basis for the suspension, one moderately experienced writer whose name rhymes with “Michael Harriot” posited a far more interesting question he has often wondered about the practice of olfactory-based investigations:
How do they know?
According to Dayton 24/7 Now, a teacher at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio, pulled Jordan Evans out of his first-period class on Jan. 22, alleging that the 10th-grader smelled like marijuana. After completing a preliminary nasal detection test, Jordan said the teacher asked other teachers, along with school principal Theresa Dillon, to use their biologically-based drug-detection devices (also called “noses”) to confirm the results of the rudimentary odor analysis. After reaching a consensus that Jordan indeed reeked of sticky-ickyness, the principal searched Jordan’s pockets, sweatpants, and his shoes.
“I feel like my principal and teacher could’ve handled it way better because they could’ve asked any other students. They could’ve smelled others, but they picked me,” Jordan said.
Finding nothing, they called Jordan’s mom.
We should pause here to explain the two types of black mothers. Upon hearing that their child is accused of any malfeasance, some mothers will immediately declare their child is innocent and invoke their Miranda Rights, named after Miranda LaTasha Jackson, who declared that “my son don’t do nothing to nobody!” (Not to be confused with the Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, which affords suspects with the rights to remain silent and have an attorney present.)
But the most prevalent kind of black matriarch is the second kind.
Forget about poverty rates and food insecurities. The biggest threat to the safety and welfare of most black children is having their mothers having to “take off work” because their child “don’t know how to act around white folks.” In fact, if one were to ask most black children to detail their worst possible nightmare, it will invariably involve a scenario where they broke the number one infraction in most households:
“Don’t make me have to come up to that school.”
Katina Cottrell is a Type II black mama.
Aside from bringing Jordan into this world, thereby having the sole prerogative to “take him out,” Cottrell also works as a registered nurse. So, when school officials informed her the Northmont CSI (Cannabis Smell Investigation) team had determined that Jordan was in “chronic condition,” she showed up to Northmont High School with a drug test and made him take it in front of his accusers.
But since she was already off work, after undoubtedly giving Jonathan the all-too-familiar “just-wait-til-I-get-your-ass-home” look, Cottrell took Jordan to an urgent care medical facility and had him drug-tested once more for good measure.
He passed again.
But the school still suspended Jordan. The school pointed to their student handbook explanation of “Class B Illegal Behavior,” which punishes students who come to school “with the smell of alcohol/marijuana on his/her breath/person or showing signs of consumption regardless of when or where the marijuana/alcoholic beverage was consumed.”
“Students behaving in an illegal manner, Category “B,’ will be suspended from school for ten (10) school days,” the handbook explains. “A letter recommending expulsion will be sent to the Superintendent unless the student and parents elect (within the ten (10) day suspension period) to be involved in the Alternative to Expulsion Program.”
A few days later, Jordan and his mother received an email notification that he was expelled from Northmont High.
While the principal and the district would not discuss the specifics of Jordan’s expulsion, in a statement, the principal said: “We provide all students considered for suspension or expulsion an opportunity to speak against possible discipline and to otherwise tell their side of the story.”
Aside from telling his teacher that there was “no possible way” that he smelled like marijuana, and taking two drug tests, the results of which have been seen by school officials (Jordan’s mother even provided the urgent care test results to Dayton 24/7 Now), it is not clear how Jordan could have otherwise disputed the Northmont Nose Squad’s pseudo-scientific analysis.
Which brings us back to the initial question:
How do they know?
If teachers and school employees are also forbidden from partaking in herbal aromatherapy, how can they be so sure what it smells like? Do they have
blunt sessions cannabis continuing education training courses? Is there a handbook that explains that weed smells like a mixture of love, peace and hair grease from a straightening comb?
If this case seems absurd, it is as irrational as the popular belief that anyone can detect marijuana simply because of smell—a claim that is backed by exactly zero scientific evidence. In fact, there are ample studies that show humans and dogs often misidentify the smell of marijuana. Many states have enacted laws that prohibit police from using odor alone as probable cause. Yet, we are supposed to disregard the results of two certified chemical analyses and believe the nostrils of a social studies teacher in the suburbs of Dayton.
Police, schools and white people who believe their nasal superpowers have used this bullshit made-up predicate for years to criminalize black boys because, well...they must be up to something. And even when they’re wrong, they’re still right.
But, apparently, the Northmont High School Bloodhound Gang has the right to do whatever they want because the nose knows.