Max Gumbel and Sam Reamer
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education approved a new Controlled Substance Policy on Jan. 19, 2012. The changes for the policy include less academic probation and the possibility for students to regain the right to attend school activites like graduation. According to SMMUSD Board of Education President Ben Allen, the new policy was approved for a variety of reasons, one of which being a response to a violation of the policy last year.
According to Allen, last year, a group of Samo students were caught with alcohol on a choir trip to England. Though British law permitted their possession of alcohol, the SMMUSD policy did not, and they were punished. The students and their families raised concerns about the policy’s severity when they learned that their students’ violation of the policy would prevent them from walking the stage at graduation even after they had successfully gone to counseling. The SMMUSD Board of Education then decided to revise the Controlled Substance Policy to include more leniency, while still heavily enforcing the punishments for violators.
“The ‘Cambridge 3’ incident that occurred last year triggered a look at the policy as well, particularly calling into question the harshness of the part of the policy that prevented first-time offenders from participating in graduation or graduation-related activities if they happened to be punished during the last portion of the school year,” SMMUSD Board of Education Vice President Laurie Lieberman said.
The previous policy required violators to complete a minimum of 30 community service hours as well as numerous counseling sessions. In addition, the violator was also heavily considered for suspension or expulsion, monitored for further drug or alcohol use and barred from select extra-curricular activities.
According to S-House Principal Jason Kurtenbach, the changes in the policy deal mostly with academic probation from school and exclusion from school events.
“The biggest change is, instead of ten weeks of academic probation, it’s four,” Kurtenbach said. “Also, students can’t participate in extra or co-curricular activities unless they make appropriate progress on their attendance of the drug and alcohol program and their community service hours.”
However, Kurtenbach added that “appropriate progress” was not defined.
According to Lieberman, one of the big reasons for the policy change was to ensure that punishment was not the focus of the policy.
“The concern is that the unintended consequence of the use of suspensions as a method for disciplining students when they make a mistake or violate a policy is to further alienate students from school and to aggravate a situation where, often, a student is already struggling in school,” Lieberman said. “Our goal is to ensure that we discipline students and have an impact on changing bad behavior, while also strengthening, rather than weakening, a student’s connection to school.”
However, some students feel the more lenient policy sends the wrong message.
“I feel like it gives students the idea that drug use isn’t as bad as it used to be,” sophomore Caroline Zasuly said. “They should be cracking down on it more by increasing suspension instead of decreasing it.”
Samo alumnus Rebecca Redman who advocated for the change in the policy disagrees.
“It is counter-productive to teach kids they are not allowed to make mistakes. School is about growth and the ability to develop into mature human beings. With [the old] policy, kids [were] taught that all crimes deserve equal punishment, when in reality, that is not the case. Changing this policy [is] not about abolishing or removing the idea of punishment at all; it is about having a punishment that is deserving of the crime,” Redman said.
Ben Weiller contributed to this article.