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Archive for Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Constructive approach

December 20, 2000

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The drug and alcohol policy approved Monday by the Lawrence school board seems to provide a good balance between punishment and treatment.

Students caught with banned substances at school or school-sponsored events would face a mandatory three-day suspension from school on the first offense. But that can be reduced to a one-day suspension if the student agrees to be evaluated by a licensed counselor. A second offense calls for a five-day suspension that could be trimmed to three days with counseling and a third offense carries a minimum five-day suspension.

The strength of the policy is that it doesn't simply dole out punishment; it intervenes with students and their families to try to deal with the problem. Simply kicking a student out of school for three days does little to prevent a recurrence of the problem. Sending that student to a counselor who can work with the student, the family and the schools is a more constructive step. Together, they can come up with a strategy to deal not only with the drug or alcohol issue but underlying problems that might be contributing to it. That's the kind of intervention that can make a real difference in the life of a teen or younger child.

The district policy also eased restrictions on students' participation in extracurricular activities. It may seem too lenient to allow students who have violated the drug and alcohol policy to participate in sports and other activities, but banning them from such events further alienates students from their school and peers and may actually encourage the behaviors that led to their drug or alcohol involvement in the first place. The goal of the schools should be to help those students deal with their problems and return as active and successful participants in the school community, not place them outside the mainstream.

Although a draft policy presented to the board earlier this year had eliminated the counseling option for first offenders, that provision currently is in effect in the schools. Last year, 57 student violators enrolled in a drug and alcohol education program in exchange for reduced suspensions. As part of the program each student received a three-hour assessment by professional counselors outside the district. The district paid for 54 of those assessments at a cost of $250 each for a total of $13,500.

As tight as school budgets are, some patrons might balk at that expenditure, but it seems like money well spent. If the counseling programs can intervene and prevent future problems for even a fraction of the students they touch, it would be well worth the expense. Students who violate the drug and alcohol policy are disruptive to the school and probably more prone to become drop-out statistics in the years ahead. Nipping those problems in the bud is a service not only to the individual student but to the community.

School districts are required by federal law to adopt a policy banning alcohol and drugs from schools. It would be nice to think that Lawrence schools don't need and won't have to use such a policy. That unfortunately isn't the case. The policy approved Monday seems like a constructive approach to this troublesome problem.

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