MOUNT VERNON — The misuse of drugs, whether they be controlled substances, steroids, alcohol, prescription medications or “look-alikes,” is a serious problem with legal, physical and social implications for society at large.
Besides the seller, buyer or user, other people, such as family members, are impacted by a person’s decision to use or distribute prohibited substances. In the school community, other students may be affected in some way, and school administrators who address the problem can be torn between helping the individual involved and protecting the student body as a whole.
Differences in opinion among school officials and the Knox County Career Center Board of Education as to how to handle a particular situation last year resulted in the resignation of then-KCCC superintendent Ray Richardson.
One student reported an alleged illicit drug deal to staff members, who investigated the incident. Richardson said the prospective buyer admitted giving someone else money to buy antidepressant pills the seller had apparently stolen from his or her parents’ medicine cabinet. In keeping with career center policy forbidding such activity, even though no pills had yet changed hands, Richardson recommended both students be expelled. They were.
After about three months, the parents of the “buyer” and their lawyer petitioned to have the child readmitted to school. The KCCC school board voted 4 to 3 to re-instate the student, overturning Richardson’s decision. Feeling he no longer had the board’s full confidence, Richardson submitted a letter of resignation.
“I feel like, in a school, we have to create a climate where kids feel comfortable to come and talk to us when there is a problem,” Richardson told the News. “And if we don’t create that family atmosphere, then they will stop coming. When you don’t do anything about [a reported situation], and the other students see a student back in the school the next day or the next week, they’re thinking, ‘OK, I’m jeopardizing my security [by telling] and they’re not going to do anything about it.’ So what happens is the kids stop coming because there’s no trust relationship there. ... I just felt uncomfortable operating under that system.
“We’re morally obligated to teach kids something besides algebra and trig,” Richardson continued. “We’re obligated to teach them the consequences of their behavior before they get to an age where they will be prosecuted as an adult. ... You have to have a plan in place to say, ‘this is what we can do to help you’ and provide an avenue for help, but you don’t wait until a person is addicted — you have to deal with it. If you don’t deal with it when they’re minors, then it gets to the place where it’s a severe problem. With respect to drugs, it’s not a game, it’s an addiction.”
KCCC board president Richard McLarnan voted against letting the student back in school before the beginning of the next school year. He said that although he believes in giving students second chances, they also have to accept responsibility for the choices they make.
“The sad thing is,” he said, “I’m afraid we’re sending a message to kids that if you do something wrong, all you need to do is get an attorney and everything will be all right.”
Steve Hughes, one of the board members who voted in favor of the student’s readmission, said the situation was not that cut and dried. He said there is some confusion in the board’s drug prevention policy which states any violation of the policy will result in disciplinary action including expulsion, and “Actual possession of a drug as defined in the policy shall be grounds for expulsion.”
“The kid who attempted to buy the pills was out of school for over 30 days,” Hughes said. “He admitted his actions and did not have any drugs in his possession when caught. We were willing to give him a second chance, which is part of what the career center is all about.”
Also, Hughes explained, expulsion doesn’t necessarily mean permanent removal from school. The Ohio Revised Code puts a limit of 80 days on expulsion, except in rare cases, and grants the parents the right to appeal. Hughes said the board is looking to revise its current policy to clarify wording and hopefully avoid confusion in the future.