School officials take new steps to clarify drug, alcohol policy

Modification redefines `constructive possession'

Education Beat

News from Carroll County schools and colleges

June 12, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

In response to student and parent complaints about the district's drug and alcohol regulations, Carroll County school officials are making changes that more narrowly define the rules and which, they hope, will result in more consistent consequences for violators.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said recently that he wants to clarify the definition of "constructive possession" (being in the presence of someone using illegal drugs or illegally possessing alcohol) and to relieve school administrators from investigating potential violations.

"We want to make it clearer what constructive possession is," he said. "Just because you happen to be at a party [doesn't mean you] have knowledge about drugs or alcohol being used."

But, Ecker said, once a student is aware that drugs or alcohol are present, he or she must leave.

Under the new rules, which will take effect when school starts this fall, constructive possession is "failing to remove oneself as quickly and as safely as possible from a person or area where alcohol/drugs are illegally present." The old regulation defined constructive possession as "knowingly and willingly placing oneself in proximity with a person who is illegally in possession and/or use of drugs or alcohol."

The new regulations also transfer responsibility for investigations to the district's security coordinator, Larry Faries.

"Our investigations will be conducted by people trained in law enforcement investigations," Ecker said. "School [principals] are not trained investigators."

Ecker said that putting the investigations in the hands of a single department would also bring consistency to how probes are handled and to how punishments are meted out.

The changes are scheduled to be discussed at Wednesday's school board meeting, although board members do not vote on administrative regulations.

The drug and alcohol regulations, which govern student eligibility for participation in extracurricular activities such as band and sports, have undergone several revisions in recent years as parents and school officials struggle to find a middle ground.

Last year, school officials created two levels of violations, distinguishing drug users and underage drinkers from other partygoers. At the time, Ecker said he didn't think it was fair that someone who is not drinking would receive the same penalty as those who are drinking or taking drugs.

Two years ago, Ecker eased the punishment for first-time violators while increasing the penalties for repeat offenders. He reduced the number of days students can be suspended from extracurricular activities, including practices, from 45 days to 15 days for first-time offenses.

But an especially thorny issue has been the policy's reach to off-campus settings, which Ecker is not changing.

"Some parents ... feel the school system should not be concerned about what happens when students are not on school property," he said. But "we think [students are] representing schools in the extracurricular activities and it's a privilege to play."

Andy McEvoy, the school board's student representative this past academic year, had pressed administrators to revise the rules on constructive possession as well as consider eliminating the policy's reach to off-campus settings.

"It's a great idea to narrow the objective as much as possible," said McEvoy, who graduated last week from Century High in Eldersburg. "It wasn't meeting its true intention because there has been too little consistency in how the rules are applied from school to school."

McEvoy also pointed to student concerns that those who are involved in extracurricular activities face stiffer penalties than those who don't participate and therefore have no privileges to lose.

He said some students also have complained that those who are designated drivers could face punishment when the only reason they are in a setting where underage teens may be drinking is to get friends home safely.

"This is one of those areas where the school system and the public will always butt heads," he said. "The school system wants to uphold certain values. They want students in the community to represent [the district] in a certain way. ... [But] the school system shouldn't be given that much jurisdiction over students when they are not in school."

Violations

Carroll County schools have two levels of drug and alcohol violations.

Category One

Violations include smoking or possessing tobacco products on school property or at school-sponsored events; constructive possession; distributing over-the-counter medications or using them in excess of the recommended dosage.

Sanctions include:

First offense:

Banned for 15 school days from extracurricular activities.

Second offense:

Banned for 45 school days from extracurricular activities and may not attend events.

Third offense:

Banned from extracurricular activities and may not attend events for rest of school career.

Category Two

Violations include possessing, manufacturing or distributing illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, drugs or alcohol look-alikes, on or off school premises; using another person's medication on school premises or at school-sponsored events; distributing prescription drugs.

Sanctions include:

First offense:

Banned for 45 school days from extracurricular activities and may not attend events.

Second offense:

Banned from extracurricular activities and may not attend events for rest of school career.

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