Carroll County school officials plan to alter drug and alcohol penalties

Repeat offenders targeted for tougher discipline


April 14, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Carroll County school officials continue to tinker with their hotly debated alcohol and drug regulations - easing penalties for students merely present when banned substances are consumed but stiffening punishment for repeat offenders.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday that the regulations are being changed to differentiate two levels of violations, separating drug users and underage drinkers from nonparticipating partygoers.

"I just don't think it's fair that someone that's not drinking gets the same penalty as those who are drinking or doing drugs," Ecker said. "A lot of people think that the school system should not be concerned with what happens off of school property. But participating in after-school activities is a privilege. What happens off-campus affects the school, too."

The changes, which would take effect July 1 after reviewing public reaction, would impose harsher penalties earlier, including barring second-offense drinkers from extracurricular activities for the rest of their school career. Current regulations give students one more chance before they are barred.

School board members are expected to discuss the proposal - although they cannot vote on administrative regulations - at a meeting tomorrow. The board meets at 5 p.m. at district headquarters on North Court Street in Westminster.

Last year, Ecker revised the rules to ease the punishment for one-time violations and beef it up for repeat offenders. He reduced the number of days students can be suspended from extracurriculars from 45 days to 15 days the first time they are caught drinking alcohol off school property or at a party at which minors are drinking.

A committee of school administrators, parents and students drafted the latest proposal, which would separate violations into two levels of severity.

The first level would penalize on-campus smoking, "constructive possession" (being in the company of a student using illegal drugs or too young to possess alcohol) and abusing or distributing over-the-counter medication. The penalty for first-time offenders at that level would remain 15 days' suspension from extracurriculars, including practices. A second offense would draw a 45-day suspension. Students caught a third time would be prohibited from extracurriculars - even as a spectator - for the duration of their school career.

The second level of violations would punish use or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol - on or off school premises - or use someone else's prescription drugs. First-time offenders would not be able to participate in extracurriculars for 45 days. A second offense would remove students from activities for the duration of their school years.

The off-campus alcohol rules caused turmoil at Westminster High School last year when nine varsity basketball players were kicked off the girls team for attending a sleepover party in December 2002 where beer and rum were consumed. Randall S. Matthews, 48, the father of one of the players, was charged with buying the beer that eight of the nine suspended girls allegedly drank. He pleaded guilty in January and received probation before judgment and a $1,000 fine last month.

Although unsure how administrators would be able to distinguish offenders from innocent bystanders, Westminster High Principal John Seaman said that what happens off school grounds reflects on the school.

"The reality of it is school is a place of education, but it's well beyond math, English and social studies," Seaman said. "Representing the school in extracurricular activities is a privilege. If students are acting in such a way that they are an embarrassment to themselves and to their schools, they need to be restricted from participation."

School board member Laura K. Rhodes, who spoke out against the policy as a parent before her election to the board in 2002, remains opposed to it. She and other parents questioned the fairness of a policy that punishes students for behavior off school property.

"I will support whatever it is that the school system adopts, but ... I do have a problem with a policy that I feel is difficult to enforce and in an arena the school system does not really have jurisdiction, as far as policing people off school grounds," she said.

"The only way to enforce this is through hearsay, and that's not always the most reliable information. I've always been concerned with teen-agers being angry at other teen-agers, saying things that will get them in trouble," Rhodes said.

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