SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Board of Education formally accepted a controversial policy Thursday that reduces the amount of punishment levied on a student for violating school rules on alcohol and drug use.

The vote ended eight months of work on the part of district staff, parents and the board to create consequences for breaking the rules on drinking or drug use at school or at school events that adequately punished students while also getting them the help they might need for any substance abuse problems.

Previous rules required students to serve a five-day suspension, complete 40 hours of community service and attend 24 hours of drug and alcohol counseling while serving a 10-week academic probation.

During that probationary period, students were not allowed to attend school events, including milestone moments like graduation.

A second offense put a student up for expulsion.

The new rules, called an administrative regulation, assigns different punishments for different age groups.

Elementary and middle school students would receive a three-day suspension for their first violation, and be required to complete community service either on or off the school site.

High school students would automatically get a five-day suspension, complete 40 hours of community service, attend 24 hours of substance abuse counseling and receive academic probation for four weeks.

During that month, they would still not be allowed to participate in school activities, but they could get a pass for graduation if they show proof that they’re making progress on their community service.

Parents would also be required to commit to 12 hours of substance abuse counseling.

The changes soften an otherwise excessive policy, said Lisa Golden Balfous, a psychiatrist in the community and outspoken critic of the original policy.

“The parameters are somewhat more flexible,” she said. “It’s still really time-consuming for kids and parents, but if kids are intoxicated at school, it’s a serious issue.”

The policy came under fire in May for what parents considered its draconian nature after three 18-year-old Samohi seniors were found in a bar with beer on their table while on a choir trip overseas.

Although they were of legal drinking age in England, the girls were punished under school rules because they were participating in a school-sponsored trip.

The girls weren’t allowed to continue in the choir and would have been kept out of their own graduation, but the board stepped in.

Under pressure from parents, and their attorney, the Board of Education suspended the harsh policy and directed staff to do a comprehensive review of how other districts punish malfeasant students.

In the meantime, an interim policy was put in place that let the three girls and all others under academic probation for drug or alcohol offenses to attend graduation if they had already met the other terms of the punishment.

That policy expired on June 30, 2011, and the original policy took its place.

The new version will be reviewed by Superintendent Sandra Lyon. It will go into effect after she approves it.

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