The Mansfield School Committee, at the behest of committee member Jean Miller, reconsidered their vote from last meeting concerning Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association’s chemical health law.
The law itself states that any student athlete that is found to be in possession of alcohol by police outside of normal school hours to be suspended from athletic games for a period determined by the principal.
In May, the school committee voted 5-0 to add in the district’s enforcement policy that any student athlete found to be in constructive possession, in the presence of a large amount of alcohol with no parental supervision (basically a large party that was broken up by police), was in violation of the law. This rule only applies to student athletes, and don’t reflect on a student’s permanent record because it didn’t happen during school hours.
Miller said that this was guilt by association, because the punishment could be enacted when a student had not necessarily done anything wrong.
“I asked for [the reconsideration] because I voted in favor of that policy and it has troubled me,” she said. I understand that you’re trying to address a significant issue and I support you working on efforts towards that. I certainly in no ways support underage drinking; poor choices follow students. I’m just worried about this policy that I too had a hand in, and I’m concerned about the ramifications of having students who are guilty by association being penalized because they were at that party.”
MHS principal Michael Connolly said that there are so many loopholes in the old way that would allow a student athlete to slip by without any punishment.
“We want to encourage kids to not be there,” he said. “We want to deter them from being there, but it’s a challenging matter no matter which way you go… The way it stands now there’s a lot left open to a gray area.”
MHS assistant principal Dawn Stockwell added that much of her and the MHS staff’s time is taken up with these cases. With 30-40 names for each broken up party, she said that each party can take up to 20-40 hours to fully process. With 10 of these parties broken up last year, she said they have been a strain on resources.
Connolly added that he believes it might look like the school cannot enforce MIAA’s chemical health rule, Mansfield may be expulsed from the league. He added that other high schools, such as King Philip Regional High, are also using this policy.
School committee member Wayne Smith said that only punishing student athletes, though that’s the only student group the MIAA can punish, for possession or constructive possession of drugs or alcohol is unfair. Students who participate in other activities and clubs should be held culpable as well.
“I personally think that it should [affect] anyone that’s in school activities as well,” he said. “The student athlete is there, the choir [student] is there and the student athlete is the only one getting in trouble.”
Committee member O’Neil agreed, saying she’d like to look into creating a similar rule for all school activities.
“I’d like to see it expanded so we’re not just punishing athletes,” she said.
The committee voted 4-1 in favor of keeping the constructive possession policy, with Jean Miller voting against.