A “zero-tolerance” policy for tobacco, alcohol and drug violations modeled on the Waynesville R-VI School District won't be in effect next year in the Dixon R-I School District, school board members decided Monday night.
Athletic Director Tony Brandt told board members that the current Dixon policy may not fit well in a smaller district. Even though Dixon is the county's second-largest school district with about a thousand students, it's only a fifth of the size of the Waynesville district, and banning student-athletes for an entire season creates serious problems for a smaller district, he said.
“It's easy for Waynesville to say, 'You're done for the year,' when they have 10 more (players) who are just as good,” Brandt said. “'One violation and you're done' is not the way we thought we should go.”
Not all large Missouri districts have a zero-tolerance policy. Brandt said the Rolla schools allow athletes to play after a suspension unless a second offense is committed, but they're then banned from sports for the rest of the year.
Brandt proposed a series of pre-established penalties requiring student-athletes to miss a specified number of games for first, second and third offenses, which takes away discretion from coaches who may prefer to assign laps or sit-ups or other punishments for some athletes.
“We didn't want it to look like we were practicing elitism with special athletes having special privileges,” Brandt said. “I probably wouldn't even be here if we hadn't had situations last year come up.”
Those situations involved specific problems with student athletes who were accused of offenses that didn't lead to a police report or criminal charges. Brandt proposed a new policy specifying that if a student is seen by “school personnel” while drinking, using tobacco or using drugs, that constitutes an offense leading to punishment.
Board member Robert Hill, a retired Dixon High School principal, wanted clarification based on incidents during the previous school year.
“Could that be a custodian? And do they have to see them? Who determines who is intoxicated?” Hill asked.
Another problem, Hill said, is that being in the same group as people who are smoking or drinking doesn't mean a person is smoking or drinking themselves.
“Some people say, 'If you're with people drinking, you're just as guilty,'” Hill said.
Hill disagreed with that approach to discipline.
“I don't want a custodian to see three people in the parking lot and two of them have a bottle of beer and the third just walked up; I don't want the custodian to say, 'They're all guilty,'” Hill said.
Board member Craig Sellers agreed but said he thought “school personnel” should be limited to administrators only.
“I don't think just any school employee should have that kind of power over kids,” Sellers said. “The way I read this is if they're down on the river floating and some teacher sees them drinking beer … this is just anywhere, anytime, anything.”
The punishment for a first offense will be suspension for five games, carrying over to the next athletic season, even though some seasons have different numbers of games.
Board members said they didn't object to the policy even though it will affect different sports in different ways as long as it's clear to students what the consequences will be for bad behavior.
“As long as we're up-front with the kids, and if they know they'll miss half the season by missing five games and they go out and do these things, it's on them,” Hill said.
Sellers asked who sets the penalties for violations; Brandt said it's currently up to the discretion of the coaches and said that's not a good practice.
“If we continue with the current practice where every coach gives out whatever penalty he wants, sooner or later we're going to get into a situation where it's the same group of kids getting different punishments,” Brandt said. “I kind of feel we all need to be on the same page as coaches.”
Board member Troy Porter said it's important for the district to have a set penalty for serious violations while allowing appeals in unusual circumstances. Those appeals could include increasing as well as decreasing the penalties.
“Younger coaches have a tendency that they want to be buddies with the guys, especially if they are good players. This kind of takes it out of their hands,” Porter said.
Several school board members asked what should happen with multiple offenses in a single year and whether a repeat offender should be barred from sports for the entire school career or only for one or two years.
“I think if you screw up three times as a freshman, you ought to get a chance as a junior to prove yourself,” Sellers said.
Hill agreed.
“Hopefully it doesn't happen, but if they're dumb enough to get caught three times, then so be it,” Hill said. “But I can see a point where a freshman or sophomore can maybe learn something and get some common sense.”
School officials said they probably will need to apply the policy in the future and wanted an enforceable policy.
“I think drugs and alcohol will be our biggest issues with athletes from here on out,” Brandt said.