Thursday, January 23, 2003

Parents split on CEHS alcohol policy

Published in the Current

Some Cape parents are worried that a strict school alcohol policy may be doing more harm than good, while others are supportive of the school’s efforts to battle teen drinking. A recent Cape Elizabeth High School Parents Association meeting became a forum for discussion of the issue.

HSPA Vice President Beth Currier opened the debate by referring to a New Year’s Eve party at Sugarloaf, following which two students were kicked off sports teams for violating their athletic contracts.

Under a contract that athletes must sign, students who report their own violations of the policy are, on the first offense, suspended from a team for two competitions, while those who do not self-report a first offense are off the team for the rest of the season. Second-time offenders are off all teams for the rest of the school year.

Currier questioned the intent and actual effects of the policy on students’ behavior. “Is this policy exactly what we want in place? Is it doing what we want it to do?”

Several parents suggested that kids who made bad choices could use the support of a team environment to improve themselves, rather than being excluded from the team.

One parent said a school-based sports suspension could have large repercussions for a student, if a college scholarship depended on athletics.

“It could ruin their life,” she said. “In children, can’t we give them one or two more chances?”

Joan Moriarty, who works in the high school office and has a son in the sophomore class, agreed. “There are some kids where athletics – that’s it, that’s all they have,” she said. She suggested requiring policy violators to do community service before allowing them back on teams. “I’m not for kicking them off the team entirely,” she said.

Assistant Principal Mark Tinkham, who was at the meeting, said the contract was drawn up by the School Board. “They devised a policy that they felt set the clearest boundary for students,” Tinkham said.

It sends a clear message, he said, that “substance abuse isn’t acceptable.”

Other schools are stricter than Cape, suspending students from teams entirely after a first offense.

One parent said the policy isn’t new, and therefore shouldn’t be as big a concern as it seems to be now. “This is not a surprise to the athletes or the athletes’ families,” she said.

When Currier’s son, who is on the hockey team, re-read the policy recently, “he was shocked at the real details of what it said,” Currier told parents.

Another parent agreed, saying, “I don’t think that many kids really and truly get it,” though a third parent said, “it’s our job to make sure they get it.”

Another parent suggested that kids who are kicked off teams shouldn’t just be let alone. “I think that child needs more than just being taken off a team,” she said.

HSPA president Debbie Croft said playing athletics is a privilege. “You make sacrifices to do that,” she said.

Parents said some kids are making those sacrifices and are following the rules to be allowed to play. Letting rule-breakers play cheapens the commitments of the others, they said.

Tinkham said there has to be a final line that, when crossed, results in strong action. “At what point do you say, ‘enough’s enough?’” he asked.

Currier said parents who support the policy “better be ready to live with your kid losing sports for the whole year.”

But another parent said Cape kids have it easy. “You should (feel) lucky you’re living in Cape Elizabeth,” she said. She has friends in northern Maine whose son was sent to juvenile hall for underage drinking.

“It’s like jail,” she said. “In Cape, the kids skate.”

Tom Meyers, HSPA treasurer, said the policy is a learning opportunity. “Where are they going to learn consequences for their behaviors if we’re going to make excuses for them?” he asked.

Parents were also blamed for their role in the Sugarloaf incident. “Where were the parents?” asked one parent. “They rented the hotel rooms,” another responded.