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High school athletic code change offers second chance

"A new athletic code under consideration would give admitted two-time drug and alcohol users at South Whidbey High School a second chance before being kicked off a sports team for an entire year. And even first-time suspected violators would be spared the figurative grilling under bright lights as school administrators try to elicit the truth from them.The present code, adopted in spring 1999, has been in effect for one entire school year. For athletes who admit to a second offense, the code simply requires the athlete's suspension from participation for one calendar year.The revised code offers the second violator a lesser penalty if certain conditions are met. Then, the suspension could range from three months to 12 months, depending upon the violation (see accompanying box).Principal Mike Johnson presented the proposed code changes at last Monday's school board meeting. A group of parents had demanded them at a packed school board meeting last December. Such parents as Peter Moote, Jamie Watson, and Bob Hezel were concerned that second violations resulted in a one year suspension from athletics with no treatment option to deal with drug and alcohol problems. Moote, a Clinton attorney, called for counseling and treatment on the second offense, and keeping the player on the team to practice, if not compete in interscholastic competition. The revised policy gives the parents what they wanted. Moote was not present at Monday's meeting. But a couple of defenders of the existing code spoke up.Bill McAfee fired a verbal warning shot across the bow of the new superintendent of schools, Dr. Martin Laster, who was attending his first regular school board meeting. McAfee was a strong supporter of the tougher first code with its two strikes and you're out approach. It's not a good move to come in here and revise things down, he said. It would be perceived as soft on drugs and alcohol. However, McAfee said later that he was not judging the proposed code revisions, which he hadn't seen at the time of his comment. It was not aimed specifically at this policy, he said. He only wanted the new superintendent to be careful about any changes that could be construed as being soft on drugs.However, none of the five school board members took particular issue with the new way to treat second offenders. They'll still be removed from the team for 12 months if they don't admit the violation, noted Ray Gabelein. They lose all opportunity to have it (the penalty) reduced if they don't admit, he said.Johnson said the revisions were recommended after consultation with parents, teachers and coaches, and the changes proposed maintained the integrity of the initial policy.No grilling for 48 hoursMore discussion at Monday's meeting centered around another revision to the code, this one giving students two school days before they must respond to an allegation or drug or alcohol use.The revised code states that first and second time violators have two days to admit to a code violation. No time was mentioned in the original code, meaning administrators could demand an answer immediately, although it could take much longer. I saw the truth thing drug out for weeks on end, said Gabelein, supporting the two day limit. Two days gives them a chance to discuss it with their parents rather than putting them on the spot just that second . . . putting them in the room with the bright lights on.Principal Johnson said, It's an honor code, but enforcement has been more difficult, than just asking for the truth. There is some disagreement about what if any rights a student should have when confronted with an allegation. Johnson said administrators hear of violations through police or juvenile authorities, or sometimes witnesses. If we find out through a rumor we're going to ask the question, he said. If the new code is adopted, the student will have two days to answer that question.John Peticolas, a former school board member who helped draw up the code, strongly opposed the two day period before the accused has to state the truth. What's the message? he asked. OK, I'll lie for two days, then oh, they're gonna catch me, so I better admit to it . . . the schoolyard lawyers are going to know exactly how to handle things. Is this the lesson we want to teach, that it's OK to lie for a couple of days? So a lawyer can get involved? This is an honor code.Superintendent Laster joined the debate. The issue is balance, he said. To inspire kids to do the right thing, but with proper protection so parents don't feel like their kids were coerced. We need to wrestle with it.Board member Bob Riggs described the present policy as Orwellian, adding that the children have to have some due process. The least I could support would be 48 hours.Jamie McNett, audience member, agreed. The most heinous criminals are mirandized, he said. We need due process.Jim Adsley, board chairman, didn't directly comment, but raised the concern that drugs and alcohol are a problem at the school. We started solving the problem. We don't want to be perceived as backing away from it, he said. In a survey of the 2000 senior class that just graduated, 57 percent responded poor to the statement that South Whidbey High School is a drug free learning environment. Another 29 percent answered average, while 12 percent rated the environment as good.Laster directed Johnson to further refine the athletic code proposal based on what was said at Monday's meeting. He would like to see a revised code adopted prior to the beginning of the school year. A workshop meeting has been called for Aug. 14 and one of the agenda items will be the athletic code. Any final action would likely come at the next regular board meeting on Aug. 28.How the codes comparePRESENT ATHLETIC CODEFIRST VIOLATIONSupension from interscholastic contests for one calendar year. However, the suspension will be reduced to three weeks if the student:* Admits the code violation.* Agrees to a drug/alcohol evaluation and carries out the treatment recommendations.* Participates in 8 hours of community service.Failure to accomplish all of the above will result in the athlete's suspension from participation for one calendar year.SECOND VIOLATIONThe athlete shall be suspended from all athletic competition for one calendar year.THIRD VIOLATIONPermanent prohibition from participating in any WIAA school athletic program for the remainder of the athlete's high school career.PROPOSED ATHLETIC CODEFIRST VIOLATIONSuspension from interscholastic contests for one calendar year. However, the suspension will be reduced to three weeks if the student voluntarily:* Admits the code violation within 2 school business days after being questioned about the incident.* Agrees to a drug/alcohol assessment, performed by a certified/qualified drug/alchohol counselor, and follows whatever recommendations are made at student/parent expense.* Participates in 8 hours of prescribed community service.SECOND VIOLATIONSuspension from all athletic competition for one calendar year. However, the suspension may be reduced if the student voluntarily:* Admits the code violation within 2 school business days after being questioned about the incident.* Agrees to a drug/alcohol assessment performed by a certified/qualified drug alcohol counselor.* Participates in 16 hours of prescribed community service.The reduction of the suspension will be based on the severity of the infractions. General guidelines for a second violation are:* Two tobacco violations -- 3 months suspension from athletic competition.* One tobacco, one alcohol violation -- 6 months suspension from athletic competition.* Two alcohol violations -- 9 months suspension from athletic competition.* One tobacco, one controlled substance violation -- 12 months suspension from athletic competition.* One alcohol, one controlled substance violation -- 12 months suspension from athletic competition.* Two controlled substance violations -- 12 months suspension.THIRD VIOLATIONPermanent prohibition from participating in any WIAA school athletic program for the remainder of the athlete's high school career."

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