Pubdate: Sun, 28 Oct 2001
Source: Medford Mail Tribune (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Mail Tribune
Author: Damian Mann


Debate about a drug and alcohol policy and expulsion of two students 
suspected of marijuana use continues to plague the Ashland School District.

Three hundred local residents signed a petition recently opposing the 
school board's decision to overturn the expulsions.

Teachers contend their authority has been undermined by the board's actions 
and want clearer direction on how to handle student misconduct off campus.

And several leadership students still haven't signed an agreement 
committing to the policy, saying it contains language that's too vague.

The alcohol and drug policy came under fire after an incident last June 
resulted in the expulsion of two debate team members at Ashland High 
School. They were suspected of smoking marijuana with four others during a 
debate tournament in Oklahoma City after a Eugene coach smelled marijuana 
coming from their hotel room.

After an investigation, school administrators decided the students should 
be expelled, even though one of them maintained his innocence and the other 
passed a urinalysis and polygraph test.

Some community members rallied behind the youths, and the school board 
overturned the expulsions.

In response, at least 30 teachers at Ashland High School last month 
threatened to suspend all extracurricular activities until clearer 
guidelines were written concerning student misconduct off campus.

Teachers said they no longer knew what to do if they found students engaged 
in improper activities.

School officials say most teachers have resumed taking students on field 
trips, but at least two still refuse until the guidelines are released, 
possibly early next month.

High school drama teacher Betsy Bishop said that in light of the board's 
decision, she would handle discipline matters differently.

If she were on a field trip and walked by a room where students were 
smoking marijuana, she would go directly to the police department to avoid 
the situation that developed in Oklahoma City.

"If this is the way it's going, what would you have us do - get a videotape 
of a joint in their mouth?

"The civil libertarians in the community assume the school is taking a 
punitive stance in not following due process," she said. "We are not a 
court of law. We are not the Supreme Court."

Hiring an attorney is an expensive proposition for a school district, she 
added. The expulsion case cost Ashland $8,000.

Critical of parents who persuaded their children to avoid punishment, 
Bishop said, "What we're missing here is a little bit of integrity."

She believes that if somebody screws up, it is much more important to own 
up to it, take the punishment and ultimately become a better person.

"If we make a mistake, sometimes we learn a lot by swallowing our pride," 
she said.

Many Ashland residents supported the school board's decision to overturn 
the expulsions.

Sharon Javna, an Ashland attorney who is founding a science center, said 
the recent expulsion hearings were particularly damaging for the community.

"I think it was very divisive and unnecessarily so," she said.

A mother of two children in Ashland schools, Javna said this will be a 
complicated issue to resolve. But she is sure the community wants two 
things for its children: "We care about the whole kid, and we don't want 
drugs and alcohol in school."

In the case of Oklahoma City, Javna doesn't believe there was enough 
evidence to support the expulsion of the two boys.

"There were four juniors in that hotel room when pot was being smoked," she 
said. But to single out two of them, based on the statements of two others, 
was a mistake, she believes.

"If all four kids had gotten the same punishment, they would have taken 
it," she said.

As to the drug and alcohol policy, Javna said, "There is a big difference 
between being at high school and experimentation at home."

With the expulsion matter behind it, the school board will continue to 
delve into the controversial drug and alcohol policy at a later date.

Initially, the policy would have held leadership students accountable for 
behavior both on and off campus, but the board, at the urging of student 
leaders, removed the off-campus language from the policy.

Students, however, still want to refine the policy.

Senior class president Dan Golden, 18, has decided not to sign the 
leadership contract, finding the language too vague.

He particularly objects to punishment for a student who has been construed 
as disrespectful to a teacher or who brings discredit on Ashland High School.

"Disagreement could be taken as disrespectful," he said.

A teacher could use the language in the policy as a way to get back at a 
student, Golden said.

Although there is the potential he could lose his title if he doesn't sign, 
Golden said he is not worried. "They can't do anything after the fact and 
after I've already been gotten into this office," he said.

Co-student body president Brady Brim-DeForest hopes the administration 
comes up with a clear policy that provides enough guidelines to help 
teachers determine the best course of action.

Co-student body president Brad Rahmlow believes a teacher who didn't like a 
particular student could use the contract as a means of retaliation.

Nevertheless, he said, "I would like to see everyone sign it, but continue 
to work on it."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens