Moving towards the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District’s efforts to become an all-around 21st-century learning environment, the district discussed how discipline may take shape in their near-future discussing controlled substances and substance abuse on campus.

At a Thursday, August 16 board meeting at the Santa Monica district offices, Tara Brown, director of student services in the district, discussed a proposal for a new method of disciplining students in the district who abuse controlled substances, with restorative justice acting as the foundation of the proposed policy changes.

In the revised policy change — ranging from the elementary to secondary education levels — students abusing controlled substances would be suspended from school (the policy change shortens the number of days suspended), but give students an individualized action plan, providing them with substance abuse help from the CLARE Foundation (an alcohol and drug rehab organization) as well as help from district’s mental health counselors.

“The purpose is to have a more balanced approach to our response and better utilize our services,” she said. “We don’t want to use a one-size approach anymore.”

Brown says the goal of the discipline is meant to engage students to reflect on the harms of substance abuse. While the student would be punished, the action plan provides rehabilitation for the student, a safety net of sorts that Brown says the school doesn’t currently have.

“I feel this satisfies the need of having a hard line but at the same time bringing that hug that the student needs,” she said.

Board reaction was generally positive, with some trepidation in regards to some nuances of the policy.

Board member Vice President Jon Kean applauded the efforts, saying that the policy change goes from punishment to a series of disciplinary moments for the student, but took umbrage with taking students out of school via suspension.

“Sending kids home, it’s expected parents are there with them,” he said. “But if parents aren’t there, maybe you’ve disrupted things more than you intended.”

Brown defended the suspensions, saying that the suspension would be an active one with the online course and action plan. She said discussions of in-school suspensions were had, but there isn’t typically enough suspended students at one time to require a staff member to preside over those students.

Oscar de la Torre asked for more clarity and flexibility in the policy, finding it strange that “bringing a pound of something” would lead to counseling while selling a joint would lead to expulsion. He further pressed staff about the different effects of certain drugs, marijuana or tobacco — vape pens to edibles, and how discipline should be handled in those situations.

Dr. Mark Kelly, assistant superintendent acknowledged there are gray areas to the policy and says that conversation would continue. In reference to de la Torre’s “bringing a pound of something” comment, Kelly said students could be expelled for such an offense, with supplemental findings and seriousness of the offense being key factors.

Board member Craig Foster said that while SMMUSD wants to “change the paradigm of education” and that a lot of this policy change “takes a 19th century policy and straps a bunch of 21st century help on top,” he didn’t feel suspensions were effective, saying they’d harm the district’s most vulnerable students.

Brown said she and staff made the best policy changes possible with community involvement, making compromises where they felt necessary.

“We’ve had meetings where parents feel we’re not being hard enough. Other institutions want to get to why [students are] abusing drugs. That’s why we brought in the action plan, why we individualize plans … Here’s how we’re going to help you and get you to a better place. Which isn’t going on at the moment.”

The change to policy was just a discussion item on the agenda and will return to the board for final action at a later date.

In the new policy:

Elementary: a reduced number of days of suspension: one day for first offense, three for second. While suspended, student would have to complete an online education program.

Possible cancellation of interdistrict permit for first offense, definite cancellation second offense.

Principal or designee works with student and parents and on a second offense with a mental health counselor to develop an action plan.

Middle schoolers would have to perform five hours of community service, high schoolers 10

Potential loss of graduation for failing to complete action plan.

Brown said there hasn’t been a substance abuse violation at the elementary level in three years.

Secondary: Reduced number of days of suspension — three days for first offense , five for second. While suspended, student would have to complete an online education program.

Principal or designee works with student and parents and a mental health counselor to develop an action plan to prevent a second offense. Requires individualized assessment by counselor regarding students use of substances or alcohol. Mandatory meeting with mental health counselor trained in identifying drug or alcohol dependency. Counselor will recommend further counseling. This will take place during suspension.

Possible cancellation of an interdistrict permit for first offense, definite cancellation second offense. Currently, students would get suspended 5 days. No meetings, no action plans.,

Middle schoolers would have to perform five hours of community service, high schoolers 10.

After a second offense, staff would revisit the student’s action plan to revise it or possibly transfer student to another school, involuntarily. Potential expulsion.

Middle school: 10 hours of community service, High School: 15

Potential loss of graduation.

angel@smdp.com