ASHLAND - A petition signed recently by more than 600 parents, students and
teachers urges the school board to create a drug and alcohol policy that is
more therapeutic and less punitive.

Petition author Heidi Parker, a mother of five and school volunteer, wants
the district to concentrate more on counseling, drug and alcohol education
and treatment.

The policy also should not force one student to inform on another, the
petition says, but should rely more on the collection of sound and
impartial evidence.

The policy has been the subject of continuing de-bate this year because of
its severity in expel-ling students who violate it.

Two students were expelled after allegedly using marijuana at a debate
tournament in Oklahoma last June. But the school board overturned the
expulsions following public outcry.

And leadership students this fall refused to sign a behavior contract until
language governing off-campus conduct was removed.

The school board Monday decided to take the new petition into account in
developing a revised drug and alcohol policy for the next school year. It
is the second petition presented to the board this year; the first, signed
by 300 residents, endorsed the district's current drug and alcohol policy.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro sees the current policy as being far from
merely punitive. It already offers therapeutic remedies for discipline

Though the school district does expel students for disobeying the drug and
alcohol policy, it also offers them the chance to sign a contract that
makes them responsible for their behavior for one year, allowing them to
stay in school.

Parker said the school's reaction to drug and alcohol use reflects
society's response, which has been to put people in jail. Both responses
are failures, she said. "What we're doing now clearly doesn't work."

She cited a survey conducted a few years ago at Ashland High School that
showed 70 percent of students had experimented with drugs or alcohol,
showing that despite its severity, the policy still didn't offer a solution.

"When you punish a few people, you're not getting at the problem," she said.

Parker, who thinks expulsion should only be used as a last resort, makes it
clear that she doesn't advocate the use of drugs and alcohol by students.

"The biggest mistake when people talk to me is that they think there aren't
any rules," she said.

Instead of punishing a student, the school should offer counseling or
provide help with drug, alcohol or behavior problems.

"As it is, students can be expelled for violating the dress code," she
said. "For me, that is too much."

Parent Keith MacLaren supports the petition, but believes alcohol and drugs
should not be tolerated at school or school events.

"I really believe that if a kid's drinking, they would benefit from
counseling more than punishment. It's more important to find out what is at
the root, what is at the bottom of unhealthy behavior."

While teachers and administrators were upset at their authority being
questioned when the expulsions were overturned, MacLaren believes they were
missing the point.

"Teachers have to do the dirty work sometimes," he said. "But sometimes
they're right and sometimes they're wrong."

He doesn't believe children need to be scared in order to behave correctly.
"I think the stick is counterproductive and gets a behavior that's not wanted."

Another petition supporter, Ashland police Youth Diversion Officer Jan
Janssen, said, "I have real concerns around the place and power of
allegation, a real belief that even kids have the right of due process when
the closest thing to their livelihood is threatened, and a real wondering
what it's like to be a kid with expulsion as part of a personal history."

While any school policy could be improved, Di Chiro said, "We can't avoid
some kind of disciplinary procedures."

She added, "I don't think it's enough to have a therapeutic response. But
it definitely needs to be part of the overall picture."

Part of the disciplinary process outlined by the policy, Di Chiro said, is
to determine the needs of each student through an assessment, conducted by
the school or privately arranged by the parents.

Some students may have to enter a drug and alcohol treatment program as
part of their treatment; others may seek counseling.

"We try to work with each child to determine what's the best program," said
Di Chiro.

If a student signs a contract, Di Chiro said, he or she is responsible for
maintaining satisfactory grades and attendance as well as good behavior.

For some students, maintaining good behavior can be a problem, especially
when it's for an entire year, Di Chiro said.

Board Chairwoman Terry Littleton said many of the ideas expressed in the
petition have been floating around the community for some time and will be
considered in the creation of a new drug and alcohol policy.

"We don't make policy on petitions," she cautioned. "The ideas in there
need to be discussed."

Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Thu, 15 Nov 2001
Source: Medford Mail Tribune (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Mail Tribune
Author: Damian Mann