During the first meeting of the year, School Council members almost unanimously agreed that the high school chemical health policy is in urgent need of reform, said high school Principal Patricia Puglisi.
Students also remarked on the necessity for a new, more articulated policy.
“I don’t really know what the current policy is. I think it’s important to fully explain the new policy to students once it is put into place,” senior Maya Shnider said.
The School Council, which is made up of administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members, studied drug and alcohol policies from other nearby schools, identifying commonalities and differences between them.
Puglisi said that the current policy contains several inconsistencies, such as different punishments for athletic and non-athletic extracurriculars, as well as a lack of proactive and retroactive education, or education that aims to prevent initial or continued alcohol use.
“I felt as though the policy could contain more, particularly surrounding the idea of education for students. The way it’s written [now] is very punitive. Although there definitely needs to be a consequence, there also should be an educational piece there,” Puglisi said.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has baseline punishments in place for all athletes who are caught using drugs or alcohol. School Council has indicated a desire to punish not only athletes but also students who participate in non-athletic extracurriculars.
After several meetings where the policy was discussed, the council invited the police chiefs from Manchester and Essex to have a conversation about how the chemical health policy translates to actual law enforcement.
Manchester Police Chief Glenn McKiel stressed the importance of collaboration between local schools and the police departments, citing the “Memorandum of Understanding” as a useful tool that encourages either entity to share whatever information they have about student involvement with drugs or alcohol.
“I think the police chiefs were able to provide a better understanding of their position in terms of enforcement of specific laws that are on the books in Massachusetts,” Puglisi said, referencing a law that can punish minors for knowingly being in the presence of alcohol even if they themselves do not ingest it.
Both Chief McKiel of Manchester and Chief Silva of Essex expressed their tendency to look at every situation reasonably and holistically and to treat incidents on a case-by-case basis.
“My goal is not to arrest someone; it is to make them understand that there are consequences for every decision each of us makes,” McKiel said.
Puglisi also stressed the ultimate importance of safety as one of the main factors to consider when writing a new policy, echoing McKiel’s statement about keeping students “safe and out of trouble.”
In the coming months, School Council will draft a new policy and then submit it to administrators, student leadership groups, and school committee for review.
“The central goal is always the safety of kids. It’s about learning to make good choices. It’s about learning to look out for one another,” Puglisi said.