Cape Elizabeth school drug policy under review

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CAPE ELIZABETH — An online survey suggests parents and students generally support the School Board’s substance abuse policy, although whether it should address behavior outside of school remains a divisive issue.

The School Board presented the results of the anonymous survey, which was conducted on the town’s website earlier this month, to a small group of parents, students, faculty and administrators in a workshop Tuesday evening in the high school library.

“It’s an opportunity for the policy committee and the board as a whole to hear from a cross-section of community members,” said Superintendent Meredith Nadeau, who led the workshop. “Their thoughts and feelings about the policy, what was working and what wasn’t.

“We conducted a survey this year and that’s great, but it’s important for people to dive in to those survey results and think about it and share their voices,” she said.

The School Board is reviewing its substance abuse policy as part of an audit of all school policies that began last year. The substance abuse policy, which was last updated in 2009, will be on the agenda at the board’s policy committee meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, at 7:30 a.m. at Town Hall.

The 10-question survey, which also offered users the option to contribute open-ended comments, received more than 400 responses, including 148 from people who identified themselves as high school students and 258 from people who identified themselves as parents of current students.

The survey did not distinguish between how different user groups answered the various questions, making the data more difficult to interpret.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents agreed somewhat or strongly that the annual mandatory meetings with coaches to review the major provisions of the policy are helpful. Eight-five percent agreed somewhat or strongly that it’s important for both parent and child to sign the rules acknowledgement form, a requirement for all students participating in extracurricular activities.

A majority of respondents supported the policy’s disciplinary consequences and counseling requirements for violations. Sixty-five percent of respondents agreed somewhat or strongly that the self-reporting option, which enables students or their parents to confess to violations in exchange for reduced consequences and support, is reasonable and appropriate.

The survey’s most divisive question sought response to this prompt: “The policy should be limited to addressing behavior that occurs only on school grounds or at school functions and activities.”

Forty-seven percent agreed somewhat or strongly, while 49 percent disagreed somewhat or strongly. The rest of the respondents selected “Don’t know.”

“Give me a break, we all did it in high school and it’s part of growing up, like it or not,” one survey responder commented. “Nothing has changed in the mind of an 18-year-old. … I believe the school has no right to know what my child does out of school.”

Another survey comment said “The school does its best to provide a deterrent, but falls short because of the parents who sign the form but turn a blind eye to their kid’s behavior.”

At Tuesday’s workshop, attendees split into small groups to share reactions to the survey results.

Concern over the consistency and fairness of policy enforcement was a persistent theme, as was skepticism about self-reporting. Parents hesitate to report their kids for a variety of reasons, including social pressure, and students may only self-report if they know they’re about to get caught, attendees said.

Some at the workshop were confused by the fact that off-campus violations only hold consequences for students involved in extracurricular activities, especially athletics.

High school boys soccer coach Ben Raymond said there are more violations in March – when there are no athletics – because there are fewer consequences.

Throughout the evening, only vague allusions were made to a marijuana cookie-selling scandal that resulted in the arrest of three high school students last December, though it was referenced directly in numerous survey comments.

Nadeau closed the workshop by making a list of topics for the policy committee to consider, including:

• Creation of separate surveys for parents and students.

• The wisdom of automatic and absolute punishments.

• And whether it’s appropriate for the school to refer students to the police, as the policy currently dictates.

Sierra Bates, a School Board representative from the high school’s junior class, said she took a lot away from the workshop.

“We’re not very familiar with (the policy),” she said, speaking for her fellow students. “So I learned a lot about it and the board’s perspective.

“We have to sign it, but to be honest, nobody reads it.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.