ATLANTA – The town of Hempstead, N.Y., has a message for Gwinnett County school administrators: Before you target a student wearing a Hempstead shirt, look at a map.
Terrell Jones, a student in Gwinnett County’s Grayson High School, was weeded out of a classroom by a school administrator because he wore a shirt that read: “Hempstead, NY 516,” a reference to the Long Island town and its telephone area code.
According to Jones’ family, which moved from Hempstead to the Atlanta suburb, the school thought the shirt referred to marijuana. Jones wasn’t allowed to return to class until he persuaded school officials to search the Internet for the town name.
The town’s Web site says the area may have been named for Hemel-Hempstead, England. Another theory cites the Dutch city of Heemstede, because settlers had come years earlier from the Netherlands.
In any case, “before they would jump to any conclusions, they should be sure of what they’re talking about,” said town spokeswoman Susie Trenkle.
Hempstead is the nation’s largest township, with 759,000 residents spread across 22 villages and more than 142 square miles, she said.
The student’s father, James Jones, said he wants an apology.
“It’s important to remember that the vigilance of our administrators is important. The administrator saw a phrase on the T-shirt that raised a red flag,” said Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett County schools.
Terrell Jones says he will keep wearing the shirt to school.
The hemp plant is related to the marijuana plant, and its fiber has been used for centuries to make rope and other products. But it contains small amounts of THC, the substance that gets people high, and U.S. farmers are barred by federal law from growing hemp.