Laying down the law with drugs and alcohol

Nick Abraham and Trevor Crowell

Consumption of drugs and alcohol by at least some of Sequoia’s diverse population is not uncommon‒but what happens when students get caught? Consequences are determined by the California Ed Code (CEC), a standard set of policies set by the state government to aid school administrators in addressing drug and alcohol offenses on campus.

CEC 48900 states that students can be suspended or expelled for “unlawfully possessed, used, sold or otherwise furnished, or been under the influence of, a controlled substance … an alcoholic beverage or an intoxicant of any kind.”

Even with this blueprint for how to take disciplinary action, the decision of how best to approach a given situation ultimately comes down to the school staff.

“It’s really up to the administrators to look at the big picture and make a decision about what is best for the school and for the kid that is caught by using [the CEC] as a guide,” Principal Sean Priest said. “There really isn’t a perfect flowchart-way for how we deal with every issue, because each situation is a little bit different.”

Some find the CEC to be somewhat flawed, thinking traditional disciplinary actions could potentially do more harm than good.

“I don’t believe in punishment for anything, at all, ever,” said English and Theory of Knowledge teacher Lisa Gleaton. “I can’t think of a single time when punishing was the answer and not, instead, assisting and reorienting.”

For those who take the slightly more conventional approach: if a student is suspected of being in possession or under the influence of an illicit substance at school, the first step is to send them to the Administrative Vice Principal’s office.

“School is about many different kinds of learning, and one of our first and foremost obligations is to provide a safe and clean learning environment for students,” English teacher Nicholas Muys said.

“Whatever is happening in our world in terms of shifting attitudes toward the use of various [substances], I don’t think they have any place in a school setting, obviously.”

However, Muys believes that understanding the core causes for a student’s involvement in drugs and alcohol is equally important as disciplining them.

“We, as educators, owe it to students to help them navigate those types of issues,” Muys said. “Substance abuse is something that I think we have to treat as part of the complicated reality of some students’ lives and not only as some sort of criminal aberration that we just judge, punish and then move on from.”

Most staff members concur, finding it in the best interest of everyone to use discipline for drug or alcohol related offenses as an opportunity for a potentially positive outcome.

“Every intervention or disciplinary action is an opportunity to help students learn and make healthier choices,” Priest said.

In addition to constructive interventions, some students feel that a successful outcome of issues involving drugs or alcohol also requires a personal change in a student’s attitude.

“If somebody doesn’t want to realize what they’re doing is wrong, it’s going to take a whole lot,” senior Harley said. “It took me weeks into treatment to realize, maybe change is a good thing. I think you have to think about why you’re doing it, what’s motivating it, being mindful of that.”

Yet, some who have been caught found the consequences of their actions valuable in the long run, allowing them to learn from their mistakes and ultimately to make different decisions.

“I got expelled from Woodside [for] selling weed my sophomore year. I then [started] trying hard to get good grades because I was on probation,” Oswald said. “I think it helped that they expelled me because I started doing good in school, and I’m actually going to go to college because of it.”

Although some students may find the school policies to be excessively harsh, Oswald feels that the severity of the consequences is not unwarranted.

“Drugs are terrible, they’re the hardest thing to stop in the world, and it’s [the administrators’] job to control that,” Oswald said. “It’s their job to teach us and control [drug use]. If everyone here was smoking weed everyday, this school would be pretty weak.”

Consequences for drug and alcohol offenses are serious, but recently “Alternative to Suspension” programs have been implemented, allowing students to reduce the number of days they are required to stay at home in exchange for an educational assignment.

“We want to make sure that the consequences have weight so the student knows that [what they did] was serious, but we don’t want them to be losing educational opportunities,” Priest said.