WESTMINSTER — Chuck Minchik learned something when his 15-year-old daughter was suspended from school last month for taking aspirin on the Westminster High campus.
Minchik learned that he was not familiar with the "drug and alcohol programs, policies and procedures" of the Carroll school system.
Under school policy, students can only take prescription or over-the-counter medication with the written consent of a doctor. The medicine must be kept in the school health office and administered under the direction of a school nurse.
In addition, the district's policy calls for "aggressive disciplinary action" for the use, possession,manufacture, or distribution of "controlled dangerous substances, controlled paraphernalia, look-alike drugs, unauthorized legal drugs and alcohol by students."
The first offense calls for suspension from school for five days and mandatory referral for an alcohol/drug education program. Students cannot be readmitted to school until there is verification that a referral agency has been contacted.
Minchik's daughter was suspended after school officials learned she had ingested aspirin borrowed from a classmate. The girl later went to the nurse's office when her headache persisted.
Although initially angry at his daughter's suspension, Minchik has since realized that "ignorance is not an excuse."
"We bit the bullet," Minchik said. "We weren't aware of the policy. It's a bigger issue that deals with drugs. If the policy keeps drugs out of the school, that's what counts."
The district's drug and alcohol policy is outlined on the school calendar and in the student-parent handbook, both distributed to students at the beginning of the school year.
Earlier this year, two kindergarten girls were suspended from Westminster Elementary School after one of them found a prescription drug and gave it to the other.
Those types of suspensions are infrequent, school officials said. The most frequent drug-related suspensions are for possession of alcohol or illegal drugs, such as marijuana.
Richard J. Simmons, a pupil personnel worker, said the district's policy was developed 12 years agoand has been revised as problems have occurred. He said it is difficult to write a policy for some 22,000 students that will cover every situation.
Simmons said the unique aspect of the policy is the requirement that students meet with a professional medical counselor to talk about the use or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
"It was a radical policy at the time," Simmons said. "It was a very trend-setting position to take and one that is now being legislated in the state ofMaryland."
The policy has curbed the number of drug- and alcohol-related suspensions. Prior to the policy's adoption, school officialssuspended about 250 students a year for drug and alcohol infractions. In recent years, the numbers have dwindled to less than 50.
"Society has said much more emphatically that we need to say no to drugs,that we cannot have drugs in schools or the workplace," Simmons said.
Although Minchik agrees with the school's policy, he said he believes some clarification should be made in reference to look-alike drugs and unauthorized legal drugs.
"I thought unauthorized legal drugs were prescriptions," Minchik said. "I did not associate them withTylenol or aspirin or over-the-counter medicine. I think it needs some clarification."
Edwin L. Davis, director of pupil services/special programs, said others also have raised concerns about the policy's clarity and that school officials are discussing the matter.
"People who write those regulations have something in mind when they write them, but that might not be what comes to someone else's mind who reads it," Davis said. "The policy should be such that it serves bothpurposes. We probably can write something more clear."
He said the purpose of the drug and alcohol policy is not to trap students but to keep them informed and to help them make the right decisions.
It was a shame his daughter and her classmate were suspended, but the policy is something every parent in the county should be aware of, Minchik said.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL SUSPENSIONS
School year. . . . . Alcohol. . . Drugs*
1985-1986. . . . . . 40. . . . . . 44
1986-1987. . . . . . 27. . . . . . 40
1987-1988. . . . . . 28. . . . . . 28
1988-1989. . . . . . 26. . . . . . 21
1989-1990. . . . . . 20.. . . . . 15
* Includes illegal and legal drug use or possession
SOURCE: Carroll County Public Schools