WAKEFIELD - More than 35 parents, educators and students attended a forum Tuesday evening in the Volpe Library at the high school for the purpose of discussing the school district’s current rules and policy regulations regarding substance and alcohol abuse by students. “Guilt by association” and the imposed penalty of school suspension seemed to be the two dominant issues of concern in the current policy.If a student attends a party and does not succumb to the pressure to drink or use other dangerous substances, that student should be commended if anything. To punish someone for sticking to their guns AND staying clean is ridiculous.
Wakefield High School Principal Elinor Freedman and Director of Athletics Michael Boyages facilitated the open discussion in an effort to assist the administration as it reviews and considers possible amendments to the existing regulations. They were gratified by the turnout on a hot night in the middle of summer.
Principal Freedman first highlighted recent statistics in a report issued by the Middlesex Partnership for Youth Preservation from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's office which noted that, “Alcohol is the #1 drug of youth.” Surveys indicate that 40 percent of teens who begin using at or before the age of 15 develop dependency. In addition, binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks in-a-row), has also become more prevalent at every grade level. The report jarringly acknowledges “There is one teen fatality per hour each weekend.”
“Wakefield isn't likely to be any worse or better than any other community,” noted Freedman adding, “but the statistics do reveal why we are so concerned.”
Freedman said the purpose of the forum was to hear the perspective of parents and students regarding current policy. “We are seeking input by asking three specific questions. Is it fair? Does it appropriately deter students from risky behaviors? Should there be rules that pertain to student leaders and athletes as they are role models for the community?”
Boyages then read a portion of the eligibility rules as they pertain to drug and alcohol use for student athletes as designated in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) handbook. A two page handout available to everyone in the room stated, “the minimum penalty for a first violation is that the student shall lose eligibility for the next 25 percent of all interscholastic contests in that sport. It is recommended that the student be allowed to remain at practice for the purpose of rehabilitation.”
For second and subsequent violations, the student loses playing privileges in a substantially higher number of games. Though the MIAA statewide standard “is not intended to render ‘guilt by association,’ e.g. many student athletes may be present at a party where only a few violate this standard. This rule represents only a minimum standard upon which schools may develop more stringent requirements.”
Wakefield's policy does embrace a “higher standard.”
The current policy (in part) states: “Consequences for student athletes and all participants in extra-curricular school activities determined by the administration to be using, selling, clearly associated with drug or alcohol use or using tobacco products, whether in school or in the community, will be immediately ineligible for further competition in any extra-curricular activity for one third of an activity season.”
“‘Clearly associated with’ is defined as being in the presence of illegal use of alcohol or drugs or possession/use of tobacco products.” The first offense also results in a five day school suspension. The second offense results in a 12 week or 12 game penalty and student leaders lose their position for one calendar year.
Beyond this, Freedman read appendix II: a Memorandum of Understanding between Wakefield Public Schools and the Wakefield Police Department which states: “The joint and cooperative response efforts will focus on incidents that take place on school grounds, within school property, at school sponsored events and other locations in which students of the Wakefield Public Schools are involved.”
Many parents had concerns that the reach of the school has gone too far and the current policy is too harsh requesting that sanctions be more educationally based and less punitive.