Cape Elizabeth revises consequences for substance abuse by students

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Students who turn themselves in for first-time violations of the school substance abuse policy will no longer have to miss athletic or extracurricular events, under a policy change adopted Tuesday by the School Board.

Hoping the new rule will encourage more open communication within the school and community about substance abuse by students and offer educational opportunities rather than punishment for self-reported first-time offenses, the board unanimously approved the policy change at its June 9 meeting.

The change does not alter the consequences for subsequent offenses or for students caught using drugs or alcohol at school or during school events, whether or not they report themselves. Those students would still face suspension from classes and school activities.

High School Principal Jeff Shedd said Tuesday that the changes made sense to him on several levels.

First, Shedd said, changes were made in the language around how students and parents are educated about the policy in the first place. Rather than signing a “contract,” students and parents will now sign a statement that they have read and understand the policy.

Shedd added that under the old first-offense policy, students and community members likely felt encouraged not to self-report substance abuse, because it carried the consequence of being temporarily suspended from sports, music, theater and other extracurricular activities. That “caused tension between community members,” Shedd said.

And while Shedd added that the new policy presents an interesting ethical question over the schools’ involvement with events outside of school, he believes the educational opportunities surrounding the new policy would be more effective than punishment, and better fit the intent of the policy.

Shedd said the policy and its oversight over non-school activities when substance abuse is reported does not seek to undermine parenting.

“It’s not because of a distrust of parents,” he said. “We are junior partners with parents. When (student substance abuse events) cause people injuries, the community often looks to the school and the message the school has sent.” Because of their informal liability, the schools feel taking a more active, educational role will be more effective than the current policy.

Under the new policy, self-reported first-offenses will trigger “educational consequences,” school board member Rebecca Millet said, requiring the student to meet with a counselor for as long as deemed necessary in order to move forward.

Shedd said one concern is the schools’ ability to handle the transition if it were to shift further to a purely educational role.

“Do we have the resources to do that effectively?” he asked, wondering if counselors and other resources could handle what was previously absorbed by punishment. “Right now, I can’t say that we do.”

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or