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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Tenacious teen wins appeal
After two years, an appeals court overturns a suspension.
By MOLLY MOORHEAD, Times Staff Writer
Published August 4, 2007
The evidence against Ryan Rigau: two anonymous accusers who said he was with a group drinking alcohol on a school trip.
The evidence in his favor: Orlando police who said he passed field sobriety tests at the entrance of Universal Studios' "Grad Bash" for high school seniors and a polygraph test upholding his denial of the accusation.
The ruling: suspension and dismissal from the baseball team in the waning weeks of Ryan's senior year at Land O'Lakes High School.
That was more than two years ago. Ryan graduated in May 2005 and went on to the University of Tampa, where he now plays baseball.
But he fought the suspension all the way to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. And on Friday, the court overturned Ryan's suspension with sharp criticism for the Pasco County School Board, writing that Ryan "was clearly entitled to more due process than he received."
Ryan's father, Tampa attorney Roger Rigau, represented him through the ordeal -- another point noted by the appeals judges. The opinion said many students wouldn't be able to afford to fight and "would thus suffer the consequences of a suspension not supported by competent substantial evidence."
Reached Friday, Roger Rigau said the ruling was vindication for Ryan, a standout football and baseball player at Land O'Lakes.
"Our position all along was that there was not one scintilla of evidence that Ryan ever drank any alcohol," he said.
Rigau said Ryan played a baseball game the day of Grad Bash, then drove with friends to Orlando.
"Evidently along the way, while Ryan was pumping gas, the other boys went into a bathroom at a station and had alcohol and poured it into their drinks," he said. "They did not tell Ryan that they were drinking."
His friends admitted drinking and told administrators Ryan wasn't part of it, Rigau said. They were suspended, too.
Renalia Dubose, Pasco's assistant superintendent for administration, said district officials had not had a chance to review the court's decision.
"We'll reserve comment until next week," she said.
Ryan was kicked off the baseball team because of a blanket policy for such suspensions. The ruling, however, directs all evidence of the suspension be removed from his school records.
Rigau said Ryan might consider filing a lawsuit. In the meantime, the father said he hoped the ruling makes a statement.
"Hopefully, hopefully, the School Board of Pasco County will get the message: Students don't shed their constitutional rights at the school door."