By Beverly Ford
A good student with no disciplinary record, Sonia Vivas was on track to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer when an encounter with two other teens sent her life into a tailspin. Accused of stealing a cell phone and pulling a knife on a student, the 14-year-old eighth grader was tossed out of school in 2007 with little more than a cursory hearing after the mother of one of the girls, both white, complained her daughter felt threatened.
For six months, Vivas, who denies the accusations, says she languished at home, banished from classes at her Somerville, Mass., middle school where she was the only Hispanic student in the eighth grade. “It was pretty traumatizing,” she says today, reflecting on the incident she now believes was sparked by jealousy over her friendship with one of the girl’s ex-boyfriend. “It made me feel pretty horrible. It changed my life.” With no due process rights to a hearing under Massachusetts law, Vivas was expelled from school after only a brief interview with the school principal to explain her side of the story. Today, nearly five years later, school officials declined comment on Vivas’ dismissal but said where student safety is an issue, the expulsion process remains unchanged.