Since the 90s, the high school has enforced a chemical health policy that is more strict than the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), specifically in regards to the statement: “in the presence of” controlled substances.
The MIAA details the minimum punishments for athlete violations. According to the MIAA Wellness Handbook, it is considered a violation of the chemical substance policy for a student to “use, consume, possess, buy or sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol; any tobacco product; marijuana; steroids; or any controlled substance.”
After a student’s first offense, they cannot participate in a quarter of their school’s sports games, and if there is a second offense, punishments can become stricter. After a second violation of the policy, the student will have to miss 60 percent of their season, but that number can be reduced to 40 percent if the student voluntarily submits themself to counseling.
The MIAA Wellness Handbook states that if a student is in the presence of drugs or alcohol and not using, the student will not be punished. It specifically excludes from its minimum standards what it calls “guilt by association.”
Yet, some schools, including Brookline High School, make their policies stricter than the MIAA policy. The high school considers students who are in the presence of illegal substances to be in violation of its policy on substance abuse, whether or not they partake in the actual consumption of illegal substances. The high school also adds a minimum three day suspension for students caught using substances such as alcohol, marijuana, nicotine and other drugs on school grounds or at school-sponsored events.
According to the Brookline High School Handbook, the high school’s policy regarding chemical health is that during the school year, students cannot use, consume, buy, sell or give away alcohol, marijuana, steroids or any controlled substance or be in the presence of any of these substances.
According to Athletic Director Pete Rittenberg, the high school added “in the presence of” to deal with a recurring situation at parties at which substances were present.
“In 1990 the decision was made because there were police reports that came in, and essentially everybody on the list was denying that they were drinking except maybe the host,” Rittenberg said.
Rittenberg said that the administration makes case-by-case decisions about what counts as being “in the presence of.”
“The way we really interpret it is knowingly ‘in the presence of,’” Rittenberg said.
Despite administration leniency about what “in the presence of” means, many students feel that parts of the policy are unfair.
Student council member and sophomore Max Siegel and some fellow council members are in the process of drafting a bill for what the handbook policy would look like without a minimum suspension.
“We just want to eliminate that completely because it seems like the wrong idea to take a student out of school,” Siegel said.
Senior Talia Lanckton, an athlete who dives for the high school, wrote in a social studies paper about the inconsistencies in the policies for punishments in regards to chemical health.
According to the Brookline High School Handbook, on offense number one, a student in possession or using a controlled substance will be suspended for minimum of five days and three days, respectively. However, there is no suspension listed for sale or transfer for offense number one but expulsion will be considered.
“I think my biggest qualm with the drug policy is probably that even though, in implementation, transfer and sale get longer suspensions, possession and use have suspensions mandated in the handbook, whereas transfer and sale do not,” Lanckton said.
Lanckton used this discrepancy in the policy to argue that the minimum punishment for use should be eliminated.
“The fact that there aren’t minimum suspensions for sale and transfer shows that you still can have harsh and effective punishments without giving an arbitrary minimum for the offense,” Lanckton said. “I think arbitrary minimum suspensions aren’t accomplishing the goal of either helping the student who is receiving disciplinary action or the school community.”
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, from 2015-2016, six out of 2,010 students in Brookline were disciplined for illegal substances. That is only 0.30 percent of the student body.
From 2015-2016, Newton North High School disciplined 0.75 percent of students for illegal substances, Walpole disciplined 1.26 percent, Natick disciplined 0.36 percent, Braintree disciplined 0.40 percent, Belmont disciplined 0.79 percent, and Milton disciplined 0.49 percent.
On the far end of the spectrum, in 2015-2016, Framingham High School had 2.16 percent, or 47 out of their 2,178 students disciplined for violating the policy about illegal substances.
Although Lanckton still has some hesitation about the policy, she is not opposed to the way the administration handles violations of the chemical substance policy.
“On the handbook level, I’m against the policy,” Lanckton said. “But on the implementation level, I’m not as strongly opposed to it.”
Graphic by Lauren Mahoney
Additional reporting by Becky Perelman & Josh Gladstone