2009-06-25 / News

School Committee passes drug and alcohol abuse prevention policy

By Eileen M. Daly

The North Kingstown School Committee passed a revised version of the Chemical Health and Student Safety (Drug and Alcohol Use by Students) Policy by a six to one vote during its meeting on June 16. Committee member Doug Roth cast the lone dissenting vote.

Roth said that though he completely supports the spirit of the policy, he felt it was necessary to dissent in order to point out what he believed to be inherent limitations of the policy. “While I do agree with the goals of this policy, I have some concerns about some areas of the policy,” Roth said. Specifically, Roth referred to the “in the presence of clause,” of the policy, potential enforceability issues and his fear that this policy will be seen as the end of the process rather than the beginning. “I’d like my dissenting vote to be seen as a statement of the fact that we need to do more. Passing a policy is not enough. I’d like to see more education, I’d like to see alcohol and drug abuse prevention addressed more aggressively in the curriculum,” he said.

Regarding the “in the presence of clause,” Roth pointed to the fact that he believes there are potential enforcement issues inherent to this aspect of the policy and that he fears that “good kids who make the right choices may be swept up in the policy.” Roth particularly objected to the policy change that requires a face-to-face apology by a student leader who violates the policy to their teammates or members of their activity. “So, if a number of members of a team (or activity) were drinking and others were present but not drinking, would the student who violates the ‘in the presence of,’ clause, but wasn’t drinking then have to apologize to team members who were drinking?” Roth asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The policy section Roth referred to can be found under Section II A. 1. It reads: For a first offense a student will be: Required to forfeit their leadership position or captaincy if they hold that position unless they apologize face to face to the members of their activity or team. Roth did state that there are many aspects of the policy that are excellent and pointed to the sections that include parental involvement as indicative of this.

Although some of the remaining committee members acknowledged that the policy may need to be adjusted over time should issues or concerns regarding usage or enforceability be identified, the other five committee members supported the policy.

Committee member Kimberly Page reported that the committee received a lot of positive input from parents and that some of the changes to the policy were made as a result of this input. Page referred to the face-to-face change as being directly attributable to parent input. “In the past, different coaches handled these situations differently,” Page said.

The committee was told about a coach who handled an incident involving student alcohol use by having the offending students apologize to their teammates. “The parents felt that this was a very powerful statement,” Page said. She indicated that this input led to the change in language in the policy to include the face-toface term. “The intention of this policy is not to punish students,” Page said.

She acknowledged that issues might arise, but emphasized that each case and the surrounding circumstances will be carefully considered by the administration. “A student can also self-report,” Page said, referring to a section of the policy that allows students to seek the assistance of a staff member or student assistance counselor without fear of invoking penalties.

Committee member Linda Avanzato also emphasized the use of judgment when looking at enforcement issues. “If a student was arrested for drunk driving, for instance, that would be a lot clearer than a Facebook issue,” she said. “This policy is no different from any other policy,” she said, and acknowledged that “judgment calls are always difficult.” Avanzato also stated her belief that the administration will likely err on the side of caution when considering student violations.

Committee member April Brunelle emphasized the fact that there was an overwhelming amount of community support for this issue, a sentiment that was shared by all the members of the committee. “The community wants us to step forward and protect children,” Brunelle said.

Committee Chair Larry Ciresi also referred to the overwhelming support of the community around this issue. “I think it’s important for the members of the school committee to reflect the position of our constituents. I think we accomplished that,” he said.

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