Stonington altering alcohol-related punishments

Stonington - The Board of Education's policy committee began Wednesday night to modify a controversial proposal that would toughen how students involved in sports and extracurricular activities are disciplined if they are caught using alcohol or drugs.

The committee's action came after parents and students again criticized the proposal as too far-reaching. The committee heard similar criticism at a forum last month.

The committee said Wednesday that about half of the 80 people who have responded to an online survey about the proposal favor it.

The current policy only allows the school system to discipline students caught using alcohol or drugs on school property or at a school-sponsored event. That means a student drinking at a school dance would be disciplined, but one arrested for driving under the influence or underage drinking on the weekend would be immune from discipline.

The new policy would have applied to students' actions when they are out of school, such as on weekends and during the summer. It would also apply to actions off-campus, if students are seen in photos or videos drinking or using drugs or attending parties where these substances are being used.

The board agonized over the changes Wednesday night, before deciding that the policy would apply only during the school year, eliminating the summer period.

The committee also removed language requiring students to immediately leave a place where drugs or alcohol are being used because it could place students in a dangerous situation or take them away from possibly helping a fellow student who is under the influence.

The committee also clarified how digital images of students using drugs or alcohol would be used to discipline them.

The committee said such images could be considered one factor in a decision but not the sole basis to punish a student.

Some parents said they were worried that images could be altered or that innocent students standing next to a beer can could be photographed and then punished.

Board Chairwoman Gail MacDonald said students have to be aware of the impact that social media, such as Facebook, can have on them.

"In college, employment, the military and among college coaches, the reality is these pages are being looked at by people who are looking into your integrity," she said. "I have no problem sending that message to our students."

Late Wednesday night the committee was still struggling over how the policy should apply to off-campus activities.

MacDonald suggested that the board may want to institute language that it supports coaches and advisers who discipline students based on evidence of off-campus activities that are affecting their sport or extracurricular activity.

The committee will eventually send its recommendation to the full school board for a decision or more revisions.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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