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Punishment Too Harsh For North Salem Sophomore Suspended For Nine Weeks For Smoking M

Herb Fellow

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When I first read that a North Salem sophomore had been suspended for nine weeks for smoking marijuana, I thought I had misunderstood. I hadn't. That is the punishment given to Pablo Rodriguez, a 16-year-old at North Salem High School, and it seems too harsh. Many of his neighbors think so too and they have been signing a petition asking school officials to reconsider.

After all, the officials would never have known about the remnants of a joint found in Rodriguez's pocket had his father not alerted them. The elder Rodriguez, also named Pablo, said he thought the community should face the problem of drugs in the middle and high schools.

"I went to the school for help and I received punishment," Rodriguez told The Journal News' Elizabeth Ganga. Now, he believes parents should keep quiet instead and if that happens, an opportunity to confront drug use among young people will be lost.

You can appreciate the school district wanting to take a strong stand against substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol are a problem, especially when teenagers drive drunk or high. The schools superintendent, Kenneth Freeston, told Ganga that he was concerned about a perception that the schools were not addressing drugs. But nine weeks? A week or two seems appropriate. If the problem is more serious maybe officials should be talking about treatment not punishment.

The younger Rodriguez told his father that he had bought the joint for $20 in the school library. Drugs are obtained easily in the schools, he said.

There may be circumstances about the Rodriguez case that would justify such severe discipline, ones the public doesn't know about. The superintendent could not speak specifically about this case. But if it is exactly as it appears, who can blame the father for his reaction?

North Salem might be consistent in how it punishes students. Other students said that those caught smoking marijuana on campus were suspended for only two weeks, but Freeston said that the students might be unaware of other cases. Even so, nine weeks still seems very long. Plus, how effective is it?

This is not to downplay the seriousness of substance abuse. Here are some findings from a survey of high school students by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2005.

About 38 percent of teenagers have tried marijuana at least once, while 20 percent of them use marijuana currently.

When it comes to alcohol, the numbers are higher: 74 percent of high school students have tried it; 26 percent have had a recent episode of heavy drinking, defined as more than five drinks within a couple of hours. Alcohol-related car accidents are a leading cause of death for young people.

It's clear that we have a debate in this country about how best to tackle drug and alcohol use. What is realistic to expect? What are scare tactics? What works, what doesn't? How much have drug education programs curtailed use among young people?

However you answer those questions, parents are key to prevention. Consider these tips from the Drug Policy Alliance:

- Familiarize yourself with teenage culture.

- Learn about the array of drugs available to young people.

- Find out about drug education programs in your school.

- Examine your own life experience to see how it may be relevant.

The Drug Policy Alliance argues that the drug war has failed this country, that our best efforts might not keep young people from ever trying drugs. Whatever your feelings on that position, listening to teenagers - as the alliance recommends - seems good advice.

The North Salem school board may still hear an appeal on the Rodriguez case. It should. Alienate parents, as the community is in danger of doing with the Rodriguez family, and the job becomes so much more difficult.

Source: LoHud.com - New York's Lower Hudson Valley
Copyright: 2008, LoHud.com
Contact: Noreen O'Donnell, nodonnel@lohud.com or 914-694-5017
Website: Punishment too harsh for North Salem sophomore suspended for nine weeks for smoking marijuana | lohud.com | The Journal News
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