Some school communities need to reclaim their backbone. A growing number of schools in our larger community are caving in to parental pressure, when it comes to holding their students accountable for reckless decision making. Every Public School in New York State has a student code of conduct. Some school administrators use it regularly to call their students to task in an attempt to empower them to act more responsibly. Unfortunately, other schools use that document to collect dust or balance out a bookshelf in a dean of discipline s office.
JD is a 17-year-old senior boy in a local high school. During the first three years of high school, he was an honor roll student and a competitive athlete. He comes from a family of privilege and influence in his community. By the end of sophomore year, JD's life was changing. His grades started to drop, but he always pulled it together by the end of the term. By his junior year, he had stopped playing all sports. His guidance counselor noticed that his circle of friends had shifted. Many of his new social connections were not interested in school, getting good grades or contributing in any way to the school community.
In his junior year, his parents became concerned about some of his social choices, but always defended him, even when he was wrong. He was arrested in the middle of his junior year for driving under the influence of alcohol. His parents felt it was profiling because he was driving a fancy sports car. JD claimed he only had one beer, and that he was not drunk. His parents defended that position. Whether he was drunk or not, he was in trouble by the very fact that he drank a beer underage.
By the summer of his junior year, JD s social life was spinning out of control. He was breaking curfew, drinking and at times staying out all night. He became much more combative and aggressive with his peers. His former coach and his guidance counselor felt he was doing more than just drinking with his friends. They shared that concerned with his parents, who again defended their son and said that the school was overreacting.
As his senior year began, he made an effort to refocus so he could graduate on time and have a reasonable transcript to present as he applied to colleges. However, although he was better on campus and more consistent in handing in schoolwork, his social behavior outside of school was out of control. His friends indicated that he was blacking out at parties. Some expressed concern that he was involved in more than just excessive drinking. JD acknowledged that he occasionally smoked weed, but some of his closest friends were concerned that he was dealing prescription pills and also dabbling in sniffing cocaine and heroin.
A good friend of JD's went to his guidance counselor and expressed his deep concern for his friend. He shared what he was observing at social gatherings over the weekends. He said that JD's behavior had become so reckless that he was afraid JD would kill himself. The guidance counselor urged him to share his concerns with JD's parents. Reluctantly, he agreed to do that. He took that risk, but everything he said to JD's parents fell on deaf ears. During the entire conversation, all they did was make excuses for their son. The young man left, very frustrated and sad.
Two months before graduation, JD came to campus high. One of his teachers alerted an assistant principal, who confronted him. He immediately became defensive and accused the administrator of picking on him. The administrator suspended him for the rest of the day and sent him home. His parents were contacted about coming to school for an administrative conference on the circumstance.
After the principal gathered all of the information about JD, he was leaning toward suspending JD until graduation. JD s coming high to school was the straw that broke the camel's back. There was great concern that JD was bringing prescription drugs to school and selling them to classmates. Every conversation about the issue ended up in a confrontation.
The next morning, his parents arrived at the beginning of the school day for that conference with the high school principal, assistant principal and JD's guidance counselor. The meeting began with each school person expressing deep concern about JD, where his life was and where his life was heading. They presented for his parents their immediate concern regarding JD s coming to school high and the allegation that he was dealing drugs to fellow students during the school day on campus.
His parents listened attentively. When the school personnel were finished, JD s parents went on the attack. They vehemently denied that their son came to school high and stated that the allegation was based on one teacher's observation. There was no drug testing to validate that observation. They also took great issue with the allegation that their son was dealing prescription drugs on campus during the school day. They did not want to accept any hearsay regarding their son's behavior. They threatened to sue the school district for defamation of character, since they had no concrete proof supporting the allegations. They demanded that their son be immediately reinstated in high school and that all records regarding these allegations be immediately destroyed.
The school administration agreed to back down and reinstate JD. They were not so quick to agree to destroy the documents alleging that JD had come to school high and was dealing prescription drugs on campus. A few days passed. JD's parents contacted the high school again and indicated that if their request was not honored, since the school had no solid proof to support the allegations against their son, they would initiate a lawsuit against the school district.
When word got around that JD's parents had threatened the school district, the district caved in. Many tenured faculty members were appalled and felt their authority and integrity as educators had been compromised. A number of teachers made statements of dissatisfaction regarding that circumstance at the next school board meeting.
JD graduated that June by the skin of his teeth. Most of the colleges that he applied to wait listed him due to his erratic academic transcript. His senior summer was absolutely out of control. He was fired from three jobs due to lateness and coming to work high.
He continued to party into the early-morning hours. His parents continued to deny his drug use. He masked it by drinking. When they inquired about pills, pot coke and heroin, he gave an all star performance and denied it. His parents believed him.
In late August of his senior summer after work, he was hanging out with a group of friends. Three undercover cops stopped him and asked him a series of questions about a wide range of social behaviors, he was engaged in. He lied and minimized everything. While the officers were talking with him, they asked him to empty his pockets. He had an extraordinary amount of money on his person. He also had little plastic baggies in his pockets filled with white powder and other baggies filled with prescription medication.
The police had been watching him for a long time. A number of JD s so-called friends had given up his name on a number of occasions and accused him of dealing drugs in the neighborhood. When the police confronted him about the baggies in his pockets, he gave an outlandish response. The police decided that they had enough evidence to arrest him, and they did. Within hours, his parents posted bail and he was back on the streets.
His parents continue to minimize the severity of his drug problem. The police had built a very strong case against JD. He foolishly did not want to negotiate with the district attorney to reduce the charges against him and discuss possible parameters other than a jail sentence.
JD s parent s self-righteous attitude and poor advice to their son caused their 17 year old to be convicted of drug dealing and possession of a controlled substance. Due to his arrogance, his probation report did not read well. As a graduation present, he was sentenced to a number of years in an upstate prison.
It didn't have to happen that way. If only the school and parents had responded differently!