Danville Express

Living - October 5, 2007

The 411: Giving drug offenders a second chance

by Katharine O'Hara

Teenagers' use of drugs and alcohol has always been a concern of parents and school administrators. Determining the appropriate methods of punishment for these infractions, however, is not always certain. The San Ramon Valley High School administration and athletic director, along with parents in the community, recently came together in a lunchtime roundtable discussion requested by the PTSA Healthy Choices Team to review the school's and district's new direction of disciplinary measures regarding students' illegal alcohol and drug use. The purpose of the new policy: "to empower teens to make healthier choices."

Until recently, each high school in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District had its own way of dealing with violations of the Code of Conduct. This year, all the high schools in the district along with the district office are in the process of drafting a new protocol of discipline to be more on par with one another.

"We need to move toward consistency between schools, using uniform language between all four high schools," said Scott Gerbert, Program and Grant Coordinator for the district.

The SRVUSD Code of Conduct (currently in place at all local high schools) outlines expectations for co-curricular and extracurricular activity participants, including a minimum GPA of 2.0, minimum attendance on days of events, and, most notably, abstinence from tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug and steroid use.

The district aims to take the direction of progressive discipline, allowing students who have broken the code to have a second chance in order to make the situation a learning opportunity.

The new plan mandates that instead of being automatically kicked off an athletic team for a first offense, the student will continue practicing with the team, face a three-week suspension from games, and must display appropriate behavior, including no tardies or unexcused absences. In addition, on an experimental basis, San Ramon Valley High School is making first-time offenders promptly attend three counseling sessions with an approved therapist to be paid by the school in hopes that the student and the family will move forward themselves with further treatment.

For a second offense (if committed during the season of a sport), the student will be removed from the team for the remainder of his or her high school experience.

"The second time we're not looking at, 'I made a mistake.' We're looking at, 'I have a habit,'" said John Raynor, athletic director at SRVHS.

Those who commit infractions in the off-season, however, are not subject to school discipline. This has upset parents who are disturbed that their children play sports with other students who, for example, wear probationary ankle bracelets for an off-season or off-campus offense.

As explained at the meeting, the SRVHS administration feels the penal system has already in a sense made sure the offender is safe and able to reenter the system and participate in school activities, and that the reason a student may wear such a bracelet is really none of the school's business. Though the school does not get involved when alcohol and drugs are used off campus (contrary to policy in the past), it is important for students to remember that they represent their high school both on and off campus.

The concept of giving students a second chance is definitely an important one. It is not surprising (and some may argue, not even detrimental), for a student to experiment with using various substances in high school. Teenagers make mistakes - it's part of growing up, learning, and moving on. By providing a second chance, schools allow their students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without feeling completely discouraged. Though some undoubtedly strict disciplinary measures are in fact taken, the school does not at all consider a student a lost cause, and works toward helping the student make healthier choices in the future.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at ohara5@comcast.net.

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