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Sense and School Rules

Orange County school districts are learning that the doctrine of “zero tolerance” is not always as simple and easily enforceable as it sounds.

Capistrano Unified and Newport-Mesa are two of a number of school districts that warn students if they are caught possessing alcohol or illegal drugs they will be transferred or expelled.

There should be no quarrel with campus bans on alcohol and illegal drugs, no more than there would be with a no-weapons rule. But a Capistrano Unified case involves two students alleged to have drunk alcohol during a school drill team trip to Salzburg, Austria. In the other case, in Newport Beach, a policeman reported finding an empty plastic bag and a pipe in a student’s car. The policeman suspected marijuana use and forwarded his suspicions to school officials. The student denied any connection to the alleged drug paraphernalia and was not arrested. The school suspended him and transferred him to another school, but a court ordered him reinstated.

In these and other cases, courts are being asked to determine how far a school’s jurisdiction runs. To students’ cars, bedrooms, workplaces? To hotel rooms half a world away? Are schools right to insist on zero tolerance when someone is traveling to or from school as well?

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As we have noted, common sense would help in many of these cases. A 13-year-old Texas girl should not have been suspended for carrying Advil, which the school district ruled was a drug. Nor should a Pennsylvania eighth-grader have been suspended for chewing an Alka-Seltzer tablet. But students on school trips, no matter how near or how far, should be governed by school rules. If the rule is no alcohol or drugs, it can be enforced on campus or in a hotel room that is an integral part of a school trip.

In the Newport Beach case, where the student was not going to or from school, the district would appear to be on shakier ground. There have to be limits to a school’s jurisdiction.

As school districts have learned, students’ parents often ask the courts to interpret the rules. Anti-drug education is needed, as is instruction in school rules and the consequences of breaking them. But common sense has to play a part as well.


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