A couple hundred people rallied outside South Salem High School Wednesday afternoon to show support for a high school senior who says he was wrongly accused of smoking marijuana.
Raul Villarreal said school administrators pressured him into saying he smoked pot before prom. He was told to leave prom, was suspended from school for a week and was told he can't walk at graduation.
Villarreal says a drug test he took a few days later proves his innocence, but the principal has not changed his mind about the consequence. In a response letter from the school to Villarreal, it says Villarreal showed several signs of being under the influence that night.
An anti-bullying group organized the rally Wednesday.
"Right now a child is being bullied by the administration," said Heather Waggoner, who used social media to spread the word. “Whether he did or didn't do it, I think one punishment would be sufficient. Kick him out of prom, even maybe the suspension, but don't take away the most important moment of a kid's life.”
Waggoner never met Villarreal before Wednesday but heard his story on the news. She hopes the support of adults and strangers will make the district reconsider his punishment.
“I’m hoping our presence today will be enough to make a difference,” she said. “If it doesn't work today, hopefully it works for another student in the future.”
Villarreal said the support matters to him either way.
“This is so great. I'm so humbled by this. There are no words to explain this,” Villarreal said while standing in the middle of the crowd. “I was not expecting this amount of support.”
He said he’s submitting a letter of appeal to the district Wednesday. A Salem-Keizer district spokesman said administrators will review it when they get it.
Villarreal is prepared to miss out on the memory of walking at graduation Friday, but he’s happy to have another to replace it.
“Taking time out of your day to come support a kid you don't even know is something I will remember the rest of my life,” Villarreal said. “I will never forget this."