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School officials explain drug policy; Extracurricular activities off-limits to offenders


Carroll school officials say they will continue to send a clear message to students: Do not use drugs or alcohol, or attend parties where others are using them, and expect to participate in extracurricular activities.

Officials explained Carroll's eligibility policy for extracurricular activities during a news conference Friday at Board of Education offices in Westminster. School officials said they hoped to dispel public misunderstanding over an administrative decision in which 40 Westminster High students were deemed ineligible for extracurricular activities.

That ruling, which affects activities such as interscholastic sports, drama, band and school leadership positions, stemmed from a Feb. 6 party at a student's home in Westminster, where alcohol was consumed.

Gregory Eckles, director of secondary schools, told about 25 parents and reporters Friday that privacy laws prohibited specifically addressing the recent incident.

Eckles, Cynthia Little, director of pupil services, Bruce Cowan, director of physical education and Joanne Hayes, substance abuse coordinator, emphasized that school policy has gotten stricter over the years. In 1989, the penalty for offenders was increased to ineligibility for 45 school days. In 1994, the policy was tightened to include violations that occurred on and off school property.

Citing disciplinary regulations, which coaches and administrators discuss with all student athletes, Cowan said students may not use or be in actual or constructive possession of drugs or alcohol.

Constructive possession means knowingly being in proximity to an illegal substance, or to someone else who is in possession, on or off school premises, he said.

Students involved in extracurricular activities make up much of the visible student leadership in a school, and their visibility projects an image of the school to the community and to younger students, Eckles said.

Karen Loats, a parent of a third-grader, challenged the panel, saying school officials have no right to regulate what a child does away from school.

"That's a parent's responsibility, not the school's," she said.

Loats also questioned whether case law supported school officials' interrogating a student without parents present.

Ed O'Meally, school board attorney, said state and federal courts over the years have consistently upheld challenges to the right of school authorities to determine eligibility policies.

"They may have the legal right, but not a moral right," Loats said. "They are teaching kids to lie [in order to get out of trouble]."

Jim Korn, a parent of a high school student, praised school officials and urged them to keep enforcing the eligibility policy.

Korn said his son was ruled ineligible for academic reasons.

"I love my son, but I told him, 'You messed up. Don't complain about the rule. Correct your behavior.' "

Others questioned the fairness of investigative techniques, saying some students who were drinking at the party denied involvement and got away with a lie, while some who didn't drink admitted being there and were punished.

Eckles said administrators were trained in investigative techniques and school authorities had to rely on their ability to gather the facts.

O'Meally noted school officials need only be convinced "by a preponderence -- 50.1 percent -- of the evidence -- that something more likely than not occurred."

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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