Thursday, June 2, 2005

Editorial: What are they on?

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (June 2, 2005): You have to admire the gall of the Cape Elizabeth High School student government, who asked point-blank for a rule change that would let students drink, smoke and do drugs more often, with fewer consequences.

And you have to wonder why the school administration and School Board have begun actually considering such a change.

While the present substance-abuse policies are incomplete – they don’t address third offenses, for example – and vague in places, the students’ proposed changes aren’t the way to fix them.

What the students want is clearly laid out in the proposal from the Student Advisory Council: “if substances are used at any time when the participant is not under contract, i.e. between or before seasons, the consequences outlined below do not apply.”

Of course, the students want each contract to last only for a single season, rather than all year long, as is now the case. That lets them take advantage of the “between or before seasons” time and drink all they want.

And then: Rather than a first offense (except if a student turns herself in) being the end of the season for the student, the SAC wants that to happen upon a second offense. Only upon a third offense – rather than the present rules’ second infraction – would a student be kicked off all teams for the rest of the year.

It gets better: “‘Extra-curricular’ identifies with many activities offered at Cape Elizabeth High School, but to be consistent, a student is only suspended from activities in which they represent the school or compete in.” So students could still participate in non-competitive school activities, no matter how many times they get caught drinking.

But, after a clause that does require teen hosts of parties to face consequences, comes the real kicker: “(Note: those under contract who attend a party but do not abuse substances are not subject to the consequences of this policy.)”

It sounds like they're just trying to protect the innocent people at parties. But what it really means is that if a student denies he was drinking, smoking or doing drugs, and no one else comes forward to say otherwise, the only music they’ll face is the singing of Cape fans as they march onto the playing field once again.

Who’s going to come forward and snitch on her friends? Nobody. So the proposed policy is completely ineffective, which is just what the students want.

Let’s remember: Drinking and doing drugs are illegal. The schools can’t condone it in any way, even by loosening the rules.

This is, you will recall, the town that is home to dozens of teens who went wild at Sugarloaf over New Year’s 2003, drawing the ire of the Carrabassett Valley police chief, who was not only upset at the teens but also at the parents who refused to go pick up their wayward children.

It is also a town in which locals of all ages are charged with OUI just about every week, and at least one young person every week – often someone under 18 – gets a summons for illegal possession or transportation of alcohol. (Check the Current’s police logs for details.)

Well-known party spots abound, but when police or school officials intervene, parents have been known to get upset not at their children but at the authorities trying to keep order and enforce the law.

While teen drinking and drug abuse are not unique to Cape, other towns are handling the issue very differently.

In Westbrook recently, when seven top basketball players were caught drinking, those players – and the whole team – had to pay the price. The school board upheld the decision, despite parents’ appeals. The players were suspended from the playoffs, and the team was knocked out of competition.

In South Portland last month, a 17-year-old man was badly beaten with a baseball bat at a party where there was underage drinking, leading the schools to consider strengthening – not weakening – their rules.

But under the Cape students’ proposal, only people unlucky enough to be both over 18 and actually summoned for possession of drugs or alcohol would be punished. (State juvenile-justice laws prevent police from telling school officials the names of those under 18 who get summonses for possession.)

The Cape School Board has some tough questions to answer in their review of the substance-abuse policies: What about the students who commit third offenses? Why don’t the consequences of an infraction in the spring carry over into the fall? Should students who turn themselves in get a lighter punishment?

But the real questions they must answer are these: How did you allow a group of high school students to get you to even consider gutting your alcohol policy? Why did you not just say no?

Jeff Inglis, editor