Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Falmouth school district is considering new drug, alcohol and tobacco policies that would give administrators more flexibility to mete out consequences to students who violate the rules.
Under the proposed rules, a student who is found using drugs, alcohol or tobacco may sign a customized, remedial contract promising to not re-offend in exchange for lesser penalties.
The proposal was released this week and is expected to be presented to the school board later this month.
The proposed contract system is different from the standard contracts used in many school districts, including in Falmouth, in which students promise to follow the rules or face established penalties, such as sitting out extracurricular events. Falmouth's proposal would also allow administrators to craft a plan for individual students that could include a broader mix of treatment and restitution, instead of only discipline, officials said.
"Our objective is to lower the number of days of suspension, or number of games lost (for athletes), so we're getting individual kids on track," said Christopher Murry Jr., the chair of the policy committee that has spent months reformulating the policies. "The big thing here is really trying to find a health-wellness approach."
During discussions leading up to the draft's release, the most controversial element was the so-called knowingly present clause, in which students could be held responsible for the conduct of others at a party, even if the student does nothing wrong themselves. "Knowingly present" is not included in the draft.
"Spending educational resources for policing Facebook and what happened Saturday night is not our goal," Murry said.
Gregg Palmer, principal at Falmouth High School, said the policy committee researched about 20 other districts' policies, and none contained the holistic approach they sought.
The proposed contracts create a fork in the discipline scheme. On one path, students may opt to take longer or harsher punishments, while the alternative provides a more balanced approach.
For instance, a student athlete's first offense without a remedial contract forces the athlete to sit out half of the season's contests, including playoff games. If the balance of contests cannot be served in the current season, the suspension will carry into the next season.
But if the student agrees to a contract, the penalty is reduced to the next three contests for seasons with more than 12 contests, or suspension from two contests for seasons with less than 12 contests.
"People really were interested in trying to tease out mechanisms to get students to a healthier place," Palmer said.
Falmouth schools Superintendent Barbara Powers said the more flexible approach to discipline mirrors a similar move in some juvenile courts in Maine, and allows for more customized responses in nuanced situations. The first reading of the policy by the school board is Feb. 26, when the public will also be invited to comment.
"If you're making choices to break policies, there is something owed back to the school," Powers said. "It's the idea of give-back, and not just punishment."
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: