WESTBROOK — Proposed amendments to Westbrook High School’s extracurricular code of conduct aim to make the policy more enforceable and help students learn from their mistakes – changes the community has called for this year, when student-athletes have been involved in two high-profile drinking parties, including one last week.

A group of school officials and community members has been discussing ways to improve the extracurricular code of conduct since February, when an independent investigator determined that a clause in the policy had complicated the high school’s investigation into the discipline of student-athletes who attended a drinking party in the fall.

High school administrators differed in their interpretation of the clause, which prohibits student-athletes from “knowingly being present” where there are drugs or underage drinking. Because of the discrepancy, school officials deemed the investigation flawed and overturned the suspension of about 30 student-athletes.

The word “knowingly” was removed from the proposed new policy, which the group presented Monday to a school board policy committee meeting.

Although the proposed policy allows students to leave a party “within a reasonable amount of time” without being punished, it says: “It is the student’s burden to show that he or she complied with this policy by leaving as soon as possible.”

High school Principal Jon Ross said that means leaving or arranging for a ride as soon as the student recognizes that there’s underage drinking or drug use – and being able to prove it.

Another proposed change is to reduce the length of suspensions for a first infraction, from four weeks to two weeks, but add other potential consequences, such as attending a substance abuse prevention program or performing community service.

Athletic Director Marc Sawyer said the four-week suspension, which is longer than in most policies at area high schools, could effectively mean the whole season for athletes, who could miss as many as eight games during their suspension.

He believes that has deterred students, some of whom need help, from turning themselves in to school officials for violating the code.

“It just seemed like it was a better educational fit,” Sawyer said, referring to the addition of the other consequences.

Ross said the proposed policy would give administrators more flexibility to tailor the punishment based on the severity of the violation and the history of the student.

“We do it right the first time, we steer some kids back into the safety zone,” he said.

Superintendent Marc Gousse said the current code of conduct has been tested – and worked – six times since the overturned suspensions in the fall, including last week, when students were suspended after police broke up an underage drinking party.

Sawyer said that, as of Monday, seven student-athletes – four baseball players, two girls track team members and a softball player – had been suspended for attending the party.

Policy committee chairwoman Veronica Bates said she would recommend the proposed policy to the entire school board, which will take it up within the next couple of months.

The other member of the policy committee, Suzanne Joyce, was not at the meeting. Bates said Joyce couldn’t be there because of a work commitment.

Joyce was criticized for her role in the investigation in the fall. Her son was among the students initially suspended at that time and was suspended again last week.

The independent report said that the Westbrook School Committee needed to clarify boundaries for board members who also volunteer for school-related activities, as Joyce did.

Gousse proposed Monday that the school board clarify its policy for board members to say that neither they nor their spouses can serve as officers of groups that raise money for school activities, including booster groups, parent-teacher organizations and parent-teacher associations.

He said the school board would vote on whether to adopt that change.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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