FCPS’ zero tolerance policy hurts, not helps

The zero-tolerance drug possession policy is once again up for revision this June when the new Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) contract for the 2013-2014 school year is drafted up. Will the school board actually respond to popular demand this year by relaxing its rules regarding drug possession? It remains to be decided.

For those unaware, according to the most recent version of SR&R, any student caught with drugs receives a mandatory minimum of ten days of suspension and an automatic recommendation for expulsion. Even after the death of Woodson sophomore Nick Stuban as a result of his expulsion for his purchase of synthetic marijuana, and despite heated debate and the formation of an official organization with the purpose of reforming FCPS’s policy, nothing has changed. The School Board’s diffidence is unacceptable.

Expulsion, which often results in a transfer between schools, puts a choke-hold on the academic careers of those who must leave; often, students must adapt from AP to IB-centric courses, or vice-versa, two class approaches that are radically different in terms of their prerequisites and skill development. Those who are forced to transfer may not qualify to take the higher-level or honors classes they would otherwise been able to take, all because their course choices at their previous school were aimed at completing a different program. Putting that kind of stress on a student’s education is unfair and will almost certainly affect his or her life after high school.

In light of recent political movements that have resulted in State-level legalization of marijuana for adults, the too-harsh drug policy is ripe for the same reform. Of course, students under 18 should not be smoking, selling or carrying around drugs while on campus; however, that issue is not the question. Teenagers make mistakes all the time, and punishing them by taking them away from the people, teachers and educational programs that they are used to is an incorrect and overly harsh response to one slip-up.

US News & World Report consistently ranks FCPS as one of the top school systems in the nation. Our school board should try to match that high standard by implementing a fair punishment policy. Zero tolerance expulsion should remain the answer for violent acts and threats, but not for wrong choices. If anything, the policy should be counseling, drug education and suspension for a first offense; expulsion should not be mandatory.

Make the right choice, FCPS. Do not threaten to take away a student’s life for a mistake he or she made that caused no harm to others. Being drunk or high is only temporary; losing your high school education is permanent.