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Friday, July 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Fair
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EDUCATION

Expelled East High freshman returns to school as family's focus turns to daughter's education, legal fees
Madison school district rejects zero tolerance, but expulsion remains on record through junior year

Meyer says Maia's teachers were 'outstanding' during her expulsion.
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After a nearly six week-hiatus, Maia returned to East High School Tuesday.

The Madison School Board voted in closed session Monday to reject Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham's recommendation that the freshman honors student be expelled through the 2014-15 school year for an alcohol-related incident.

The board also voted later that night to adopt a new set of behavioral guidelines for the school district, a shift away from the "zero tolerance" policies that set Maia up for expulsion.

Isthmus reported on Maia's expulsion case last week, after an independent hearing examiner ordered her to be expelled from East High ("'Zero Tolerance Run Amok,'" 3/28/2014). The hearing examiner backed Cheatham's recommendation, which would have allowed Maia to reapply for readmission this summer under certain conditions.

Maia had a sterling academic and behavior record before Feb. 20, when she brought two water bottles with a few ounces each of bourbon to school. She gave one bottle to a friend. They both blew zero on breathalyzer tests, but Maia faced expulsion for distributing alcohol, considered a 400-level offense under the district's old code of conduct.

Maia's case prompted considerable media coverage and heated discussions on Facebook. Supporters even started the Twitter hashtag #letmaiagotoschool.

Melissa Meyer, Maia's mom, says her daughter had a full day of classes on Tuesday and stayed for soccer practice and choir.

And she says the entire family is grateful to friends, family and Maia's teachers for their support.

"Her teachers have been outstanding," says Meyer.

Some wrote letters of support and offered help with homework after school hours. And Maia herself did the best she could to keep up with her classes.

"We were shuttling worksheets and essays back and forth," says Meyer. "Maia did any work she could get her hands on."

While Meyer is thrilled her daughter is back in school, she says the family's ordeal is not over. For starters, there are still questions about how Maia will make up the work she missed and whether she will be able to finish out the semester or have to take some incompletes.

Meyer says she met with the East High Principal Mary Kelley and other administrators Tuesday to start the conversation about these issues.

"We are definitely not going to write off this semester or freshman year," says Meyer, while acknowledging that Maia will have a lot of catching up to do. "She will probably have to spend spring semester doing homework, but she made a mistake. That's a logical consequence."

The expulsion remains on Maia's record through her junior year, at which time it can be expunged.

"We still have that hanging over our head," Meyer says.

Meyer says she is also facing more than $14,000 in legal fees for hiring an attorney to help her fight the expulsion.

She says it became clear she needed a lawyer after getting little direction and help from school administrators when Maia was initially suspended.

"It started to dawn on me that I was in over my head and that I needed an advocate," says Meyer. "It became clear we were taking on an entire school district, and the school district has lawyers."

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