Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy teacher pushes to keep job after discovery

Suspended from Cheshire, she claims ignorance about marijuana plants she says belonged to her husband

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

An Olentangy elementary school teacher plans to appeal the district's decision to fire her after a small pot-growing operation was discovered in her Delaware County basement in August.

A lawyer representing Suzanne Van Schaik, 48, said the Cheshire Elementary School fourth-grade teacher didn't know that her husband, Richard Van Schaik, was secretly cultivating marijuana plants because he intentionally hid it from her at the 5280 Bayside Ridge Drive home where they lived with their three children.

School board members voted 6-0 at their Oct. 23 meeting to initiate the process to fire Van Schaik, and she was suspended without pay.

Van Schaik has not been charged with a crime and plans to appeal the district's decision.

"She just flat didn't know," said Robert Washburn, her attorney.

According to a report from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, officers arrived at the Van Schaik home at about 11:54 p.m. Aug. 20 and discovered at least 12 marijuana plants. The report lists two charges: illegal manufacturing of drugs and tampering with evidence.

According to documents released as part of the district's internal investigation of the incident, Mr. Van Schaik allegedly "began to panic that his secret would be discovered" and attempted to dispose of the marijuana plants by tearing them up in the woods behind the house following a verbal confrontation with his 16-year-old son, who threatened to tell police about the marijuana.

An attorney's letter states Mr. Van Schaik developed severe neck pain in 2010 due to a herniated disk and began cultivating marijuana for pain relief after prescription medication proved ineffective.

The small operation allegedly was confined to a locked, hidden cabinet behind a false wall in a basement office where Mr. Van Schaik maintained computer servers for his computer consulting business, and the office was kept closed and locked.

Washburn said the ventilation for the room was piped into the home's radon system.

The Van Schaiks' son allegedly discovered evidence of the operation on his own and told police following an unrelated argument with his parents.

According to Washburn, Mrs. Van Schaik did submit to a drug test shortly following the police investigation and the test showed no signs of illegal drug use.

On Aug. 21, she moved her children out of the home and now is separated from her husband.

Documents from the district state Mrs. Van Schaik "knew and/or should have known" what was happening in her own home.

At an initial hearing Oct. 22, Washburn argued Mrs. Van Schaik is innocent and should keep her job after 14 years with the district. But the next day, the board voted to begin the firing process.

Washburn filed to request a hearing to appeal the decision.

There also is a chance that Mrs. Van Schaik's teaching license could be revoked by the Ohio Department of Education. Washburn said he would argue against that outcome if the state takes the case.

"Suzanne's objective is to be reinstated back into the classroom, or if there's too much uncertainty, to put her in some capacity to assist the district," he said.

Mrs. Van Schaik has worked as a teacher for 26 years, previously at Cedarwood Elementary School, part of Columbus City Schools. In the 2011-12 school year, she received a $93,000 salary.

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