Panel begins talks on drug, alcohol policy

By Maggie McGehee
Ashland Daily Tidings
After a brief period of introductions, the 20-member committee tasked with reviewing and possibly modifying Ashland School District’s controversial drug and alcohol policy is ready to get down to business, but it is still unclear how much work needs to be done.

The committee met for the first time Monday night, and though each member explained why he or she volunteered for the committee, members stopped short of stating their positions on the policy as it stands today.

Instead, members opted to keep their thoughts to themselves, stating they fear placing all cards on the table at the onset will hinder the process.

Committee member Heidi Parker-Shames was co-author of a petition signed by more than 800 residents in Ashland calling for review of the district’s drug and alcohol policy, and she said she hopes everyone will keep an open mind and do what’s in the best interest of the kids.

“I am curious to see where this goes,” she said. “I hope we can think outside the box.”

The committee was selected by ASD board members Chuck Keil, Amy Amrhein – who also sit on the committee – and Ashland Schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. Its purpose, handed down from the school board, is “to develop a recommendation on the drug and alcohol policy and elements of administrative regulations to support the policy. The policy will be limited to the use of drugs and alcohol on school campus and school-sponsored events. The proposed policy and regulations will be supported by the community and can be implemented within ASD resources.”

The committee consists of Ashland Middle School Principal Dale Rooklyn, AHS reps Don Valentini and Steve Smith, union representatives Betsy Bishop for certified staff and Lillian Toothman for classified staff, school board members Amy Amrhein and Chuck Keil, student rep Brady Brim-DeForest and community members Siri David Alrick, Michael Bianca, Howard Braham, Linda Butler, Barbara Christensen, Larry Cooper, Paul Copeland, Graham Lewis, Parker-Shames, Cathy Schleining, Dan Thorndike and Teresa Westmoreland.

Copeland was unable to attend Monday’s meeting.

With facilitator Jeff Golden at the helm, the members began the arduous task of deciding how they will go about reaching consensus on matters of the policy, how they will gather input from the community at large and how to structure the upcoming public forum on the highly-charged issue.

The school district’s current drug and alcohol policy automatically expels students caught using drugs or alcohol on school grounds or at school events for one calendar year, but allows for re-admittance to school through a contract stating the student will remain clean for one year, enter a treatment program and submit to random urinalysis testing.

Critics say the policy falls short of meeting the needs of children in the district while supporters claim the policy helps students receive treatment with the least amount of disruption to their education.

“I am here because of the failure of the school district to meet the needs of one of my children,” committee member Cooper said Monday. “It involved the drug and alcohol policy, and more than that. I really believe in public education. It’s essential for us to have a happy and successful community.”

Other committee members echoed Parker-Shames’ thoughts as committee members took turns explaining why they volunteered for the committee and what they hoped to accomplish before the April 3 meeting of the Ashland School District board of directors. Once the school board signs off on the changes suggested by the committee, the new drug and alcohol policy will go into effect next school year.

The committee plans to set up an e-mail address specifically to receive comments from the public.

Community members will have the opportunity to tell committee members how they feel on the issue at a public forum set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 at one of Ashland Middle School’s gymnasiums.

Following the public forum, the committee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22 and again at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 4. Locations of those meetings have yet to be announced.

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