Monday, March 13, 2006

New Paltz teacher says she got pot from student

Times Herald-Record

New Paltz, NY - A New Paltz elementary teacher and girls' tennis coach is accused of using a 14-year-old student to get marijuana for her.

Yesterday, she admitted it happened.

"School was stressful. That is why I did something very out of my character," said Laura Smith, 38, of Sparkling Ridge Road. "I am a good person, but even good people do stupid things."

According to Gardiner Town Court records, on Sept. 25, Smith asked a 14-year-old girl to buy marijuana for her and gave her $25 to do it. The girl bought the pot and took it to school wrapped as a present. Another student discovered it and reported it to school authorities.

Smith said yesterday she wanted the marijuana to ease the pain of her immune deficiency illness, an illness she maintains she contracted from exposure to mold at Lenape Elementary School. She worked there as a fourth-grade teacher for more than six years.

"I felt like I was dying," Smith said.

She called the 14-year-old girl a friend. "Honestly, I think she was trying to help me because I was so sick."

But the girl's mother blasted Smith.

"Anyone her age who cannot tell the difference between a friend and a child she is responsible for shows a total lack of judgment," the mother said. "I don't want her teaching. I don't want her around other kids."

Smith confessed to police, the mother said, but she waited three weeks before doing so. She tried to get other students who knew about the request to lie about it as well, the mother said.

In the meantime, the girl was suspended from school for six weeks and punished at home. She had to take a lie detector test and drug tests. She passed them all, the mother said.

The girl feels betrayed by Smith, the mom said. "She loved her. She trusted her. The worst part was Laura lied about it and let her twist in the breeze."

The girl is depressed. She is barely passing her classes. She can't sleep at night and has nightmares, her mother said.

Smith's case, a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child, is being heard by Gardiner Town Justice Bruce Blatchly. Thursday, it was adjourned to April 6. Smith's lawyer is Andrew Kossover of New Paltz. Assistant District Attorney John Rusk is prosecuting the case.

Rusk expects Kossover to request the case be dismissed in the interest of justice, according to Ulster County District Attorney Don Williams.

"That would be inappropriate," Williams said. "That would most definitely send entirely the wrong message."

Smith resigned from her teaching job effective Dec. 31, with the district's permission. School board President Laura Walls said she cannot comment on the case.

Smith said she never expects to teach again because of this case and her illness.

"My life," she said, "is over as I know it."


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