Lauren Russell: Bong-smoking teacher supplied drugs to Sydney students

A teacher who admitted to selling drugs to high school students escaped jail after she told a court she was suffering from serious mental problems when she was caught on video smoking marijuana with them.

Lauren Russell appeared in a local court in Sutherland on Monday after pleading guilty to supplying illegal drugs to students at Lucas Heights Community School in southern Sydney at the end of 2021.

The physics teacher, who at the time was also working as a 12th grade school counselor, was released on Monday, ending a five-month legal battle.

VIDEO SMOKING BONG

The 42-year-old made headlines across the country in February when footage showing her taking a hit from a homemade bong from a bottle of Gatorade went viral.

In the footage, an American mother of three sits on a milk crate and looks around before a student bends down to light a bong.

Police said the teacher contacted the students at odd hours and supplied them with drugs between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm on December 15, 2021.

Russell was arrested at her home in Beverly Hills on February 4 on charges of supplying illegal drugs.

The video went viral a few days later, but no charges were brought against the video.

REFUSAL IN COURT

The teacher did not appear in court on her first appearance since her arrest, but a spokesperson for the New South Wales Department of Education confirmed that she was banned from working at the school or interacting with students.

Defense attorney Dev Bhutani spoke on behalf of Russell via audiovisual link on March 9 and pleaded not guilty.

The court was told that she would seek the dismissal of the charge under the mental health law.

SHOCK Admission of guilt

Despite telling the court that she planned to defend the charges at a hearing in June, Russell pleaded guilty to the charges in April.

Russell was supported by her husband on April 27 when she filed a guilty plea.

While she pleaded guilty in the matter, her lawyer told the court that they still intended to drop the charge on mental health grounds.

“GET UP TO SMOK”

Court documents showed that Russell texted the student and asked him if they would like to “catch up and smoke” on the afternoon of December 15.

She then picked up the two minors in her car and drove them to the bush in Menai.

The court was told that Russell “obtained” cannabis from a 17-year-old former student.

According to court documents, a teacher gave cannabis to two students to smoke a homemade bong.

Police say the trio took turns smoking cannabis through a Gatorade bottle bong until they were finished.

When Russell took the couple to the Menai Skate Park, documents show that she told several people that she smoked weed with two students.

MENTAL HEALTH APPLICATIONS

During a mental health hearing, Mr. Butani told the court that there was an incidental link between his client’s bipolar disorder and her “uncharacteristic” behavior, which was exacerbated by excessive drinking and marijuana use.

He said that the lithium pills she received to treat her mental illness put her at risk of a manic episode because the dose was so low.

“At the time, her bipolar disorder defined her life,” he said.

“She was almost incapable – at this level of lithium – to make convincing, rational and reasonable decisions.”

Mr Boutani said the dose of lithium pills Russell took to treat her mental illness was too low, putting her at risk of a manic episode.

He said she had already gone through a long period of “acute mania” while supplying cannabis to her students, and admitted that it was a “breach of trust”.

“This combination of alcohol and cannabis use exacerbated the manic episodes over a four-month period,” said Mr Boutani.

Mr. Bhutani noted his client’s “impeccable track record” and excellent character, which Magistrate Stuart said was confirmed by a “brilliant reference” from a parent of a former student.

A police prosecutor opposed the allegation, highlighting the young age of the students to whom Russell confessed to supplying drugs.

APPLICATION REJECTED

Russell appeared in court on Monday, backed by her husband, where Magistrate Stewart dismissed the mental health claim.

However, the judge acknowledged that the former teacher had an “episode of hypomania” caused by her bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed in 2009 and led to “episodes” in 2011 and 2015.

The latest episode occurred after she smoked marijuana while abroad with her husband.

Meanwhile, the court was told that Russell was abusing alcohol during the 2021 Covid lockdown and began smoking cannabis four days before serving to students.

Mr Stewart said that Russell’s moral guilt for the crime had been somewhat, but not completely, reduced.

He told the court that it was in the public interest not to close the case.

SENTENCE

Russell was released from the trial on the condition that she abstain from illegal drug use and continue mental health treatment for at least two years.

The court also issued an order forbidding her from having any contact with students involved in her offense.

Mr. Stewart said that if Russell continues to abstain from drugs and high levels of alcohol consumption, it is unlikely that she will commit a crime again.

“The perpetrator has taken positive steps to improve her mental health,” the judge said.

“I think she has good prospects for rehab.”

No conviction was recorded and Russell was ordered to undergo a treatment plan with the help of mental health professionals based on a parole order.

EFFECTS

Judge Stewart told the court that Russell could complete a court-ordered treatment plan that included regular appointments with a psychiatrist, abstinence from cannabis and alcohol, and prescribed medication for bipolar disorder.

Although he acknowledged that she was a “dedicated teacher,” the judge questioned why neither her husband nor colleagues were able to recognize the near-manic behavior.

He told the court she was “repentant” and unlikely to offend.

Mr Stewart noted that Russell would no longer be able to teach children, which was a “significant” punishment.

Originally published as The Sad Reasons Why a Bong-Smoking Teacher Supplying Students with Drugs