Cape Elizabeth eases restrictions on students who fail

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The School Board has changed its extracurricular activities eligibility criteria so students will endure less-severe punishments for academic failure.

The policy on student use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other prohibited substances was also modified to specify the circumstances under which administrators can call law enforcement when students use illegal substances.

The board on Nov. 18 approved revisions to several student behavior policies, including co-curricular and extracurricular activities eligibility. Students with two or more failing grades will now only be suspended from their club or sports team for two weeks, rather than for the entire next semester.

The revision also eliminates the policy that eighth-grade students with failing grades can’t participate in clubs or sports as high school freshmen.

“Recognizing that youth make mistakes and that those are teaching moments, rather than moments of punishment, helps students learn from their mistakes,”  Joanna Morrissey, chairwoman of the board’s policy subcommittee, said.

Morrissey said being able to remain on a team or in a club helps students improve themselves. She said if a student has failing grades, taking away their source of community will not help them work through the problem.

“Looking at research and looking at what actually helps kids, is staying productive and staying part of a community,” Morrissey said.

In addition to the two-week suspension period, students will also have a probationary eligibility period, where their grades will be monitored. If the student can’t pull their grades up after the two-week period, they will be ineligible for extracurricular activities through the end of the quarter.

According to the town website, Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeff Shedd said the new policy will “hopefully give the student an incentive to keep their academic performance at a level that will cause them to pass their classes by the end of the next quarter.”

Morrissey said providing a punishment that allows kids to remain a part of their club or team, while also providing them with academic help, will be a more effective way to work through problems.

“While having meaningful consequences, (the new policy) also helps kids and families understand their actions and provide help,” she said.

Under the revised policy, students who must be suspended for failing grades will now be allowed to keep their leadership roles in their extracurricular activity. Morrissey on Nov. 18 said removing a child from a leadership position, such as being team captain, “erodes his or her future potential.”

This ties in with the changes made to the policy regarding student use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other prohibited substances. Morrissey said all the policy changes are related, because the goal is to help students, rather than punish them. 

The clarification in the drug-and-alcohol policy now says the principal must believe reporting an incident to law enforcement is in the “best interest of that student and the school district.”

“This ties back to the mission to make these policies a mechanism to get students the help that they need for substance abuse, or other infractions, when interventions work best, i.e., when our children are still young,” she said.

Morrissey said punishment may only advance bad behavior, and that providing help and counseling shows the student that someone cares and that they can work through their problems.

The new policies go into effect in January, when students return from winter break.

“We’re hoping these changes help students and families make use of the policies to help them, rather than keep them out of their communities,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.