Faculty Further Discuss Drug, Alcohol Policy

The Phillips Academy faculty met to continue discussion on a proposed student drug and alcohol testing policy last Monday. Over the past year, the Cluster Deans, Dean of Students and the Community Health team have worked to put together a proposed drug and alcohol testing program. Two faculty meetings have been held in order to discuss the program, and the feedback from these meetings will be used to revise and submit a final draft of the proposal to the Student Administrative Council, which will then vote on it. If approved, the policy could change the way Andover deals with drug and alcohol offenses, including implementing the use of a breathalyzer. This application might alter the current and controversial ‘in-the-presence-of’ rule, which states that a student who has been found in the presence of alcohol or illegal substances will be disciplined even if they have not been caught in the act. In regards to the potential change of the rule, Dean of Students and Residential Life Marlys Edwards said, “[If the breathalyzer is approved] we wouldn’t turn to testing a student every single time one is found in the presence of alcohol. Their presence in that situation is still a significant indication of irresponsibility on their part, so discipline will still be necessary.” She continued to say that it was possible the disciplinary action for breaking the ‘in the presence of’ rule would be decreased from probation to a warning. Even if the testing policy is approved for the upcoming 2007-2008 school year, it would not be employed right away. The policy will be stated in the Blue Book for the community to become familiar with, but the earliest it would be implemented would be in the 2008-2009 school year. At the first meeting, the faculty conducted a straw vote, which showed that about 75 percent of those chosen to vote were in favor of implementing the proposed policy and bringing a breathalyzer to Andover. At the most recent meeting, faculty members clarified questions about the policy and debated its pros and cons. There was a wide spectrum of feedback; many were strongly for or against the policy while others were conflicted or undecided. No straw vote was held. “To me, it’s difficult to say exactly where the faculty stands after this meeting,” said Chad Green, West Quad North Cluster Dean, based on the discussion. According to Mr. Green, faculty members on both sides of the argument shared many thoughtful and powerful opinions. “The general consensus was that [the policy] is unfortunate but necessary,” said Ms. Edwards. She continued, “No one is applauding that we need this kind of policy on campus.” Ms. Edwards has been talking to students for over a year concerning the policy and has worked with the cluster presidents. She said that students see the reasons for such a policy. “Some students were actually angry that there are students without a lot of accountability who were not disciplined, while others who are honest were,” she said. Although Instructor in English Ada Fan was unable to attend the meeting, she said, “In principle, I have questions about the breathalyzer, but in practice, I understand its usefulness. Many schools, including Deerfield, apparently have them and manage to use them [or not] without infringing on students’ rights. I am concerned about students’ rights, but we also need to trust the deans.” Mr. Green supported the proposal, although he hopes that he will never have to use it. “While I have deep respect for my colleagues who don’t support the policy, I see having a breathalyzer and a drug testing policy as a useful tool that could be used as a last resort in situations where it is difficult to tell which students are telling the truth, and as a means of verifying facts…all faculty members have a responsibility to hold students accountable to school rules,” he said. He continued, “I strongly feel that [the policy]’s just one part of the puzzle. This issue is part of a larger discussion…establishing the place of honesty at PA is more important than having a breathalyzer policy.” Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English, is against the policy. Although she understands others’ reasons for its support, she said, “I think that there are huge philosophical and pedagogical issues involved, such as the civil rights of students. There’s the larger issue of, are we really going to teach kids the lesson of honesty or is it coercing? …The policy could have huge repercussions we can’t predict yet and change the culture of the school… it could take away something really great that we have right now.” Members of the community have also expressed that PA may just be considering the new policy because all of Andover’s peer schools, such as Exeter, already have similar testing policies. However, Ms. Edwards said, “If the policy is voted through by the Senior Administrative Council, it would be because the community needs it and not because we are simply following our peers.” Ms. Edwards continued, “It’s unfortunate that we’re in a position where we feel that this [policy] is needed. For me, nothing is more important than the safety and the well-being of the students. That’s my driving force.”