School drug policy revised

Time violators are banned from activities is reduced

Change applies to first offense

Cousin is to recommend penalty of up to 30 days

Howard County

August 27, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education adopted revisions last night to the school system's drug and alcohol policy that will reduce the 70-day suspension from extracurricular activities for a first-time use or possession offense.

But the changes will not become effective until Oct. 1 because board members could not agree on the number of days a first-time offender would be excluded from extracurricular activities. The board directed Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin to recommend a fixed number of days up to 30 for suspension.

Courtney Watson, chairman of the school board, said she hopes the new policy and procedures will be in place by mid-September. In the meantime, the current drug and alcohol policy will stand.

The extracurricular suspension drew the most concern during a nearly hour-and-a-half discussion. The debate centered on whether excluding students from extracurricular activities for 70 days acts as a deterrent or whether the school system should be a nurturing authority.

"Zero tolerance is an issue," member James P. O'Donnell said. "I worry about the student who needs the help and the activities in order for this student to do well."

The school system's alcohol and drug policy calls for a minimum five-day, and no more than a 30-day suspension; counseling; and a ban from extracurricular participation for 70 days for a first offense of possession of alcohol or drugs.

A committee that reviewed the policy recommended that exclusion from activities coincide with the days of school suspension imposed by a principal for a first-time offender, a maximum of 30 days.

School administrators and staff members objected to reducing the 70-day extracurricular suspension, but the committee concluded that research and data found no evidence to support the administrators' argument that the harsher punishment is a deterrent.

Sandra H. French, the only board member voting against the new policy, opposed changing the longer punishment.

"If 70 now is too high, I still believe going as low as [a one-day suspension] is too low," French said, using the minimum punishment as an example.

Sandra Erickson, the school system's chief of administration and instruction, told the board that she prefers having a fixed standard as opposed to giving principals too much discretion.

"We would like to see a consistent penalty for exclusion from extracurricular activities," Erickson said.

For students found to be distributing drugs or alcohol, the policy calls for a minimum 45-day suspension, counseling and a ban from extracurricular activities for the remainder of the semester and the next semester for a first-time offense.

Under the new policy, once implemented, the punishment for first-offense distribution remains the same.

The new policy excludes graduation from the list of extracurricular activities subject to the suspension. It also adds new consequences for use and distribution of prescription and over-the-counter medication.

In other business, the school board approved a $75,000 consulting contract for Kimberly A. Statham, who is stepping down today as chief academic officer. Board members Joshua Kaufman and Watson opposed the contract, which expires June 30.

Statham, a once highly regarded Howard County schools administrator, was accused in December of abusing her power by intimidating school staff members to obtain preferential treatment for her daughter, who was a student at Centennial High School.

In May, the school board unanimously reversed the demotions of Statham and Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett, who also was demoted by former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke as part of the allegations of grade tampering.

Statham, who characterized her resignation as an inevitable move, will work on developing strategies to implement the county's Bridge to Excellence master plan; evaluating the "school improvement unit," which focuses attention and resources on lagging schools; and implementing the county's charter school policy.

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