Guest: Students should not have been expelled for marijuana at Bishop Blanchet High School
With the new marijuana law recently taking effect in Washington, school administrators will have to navigate the uncharted waters of more easily available marijuana, writes guest columnist Nicholas O’Connell.
Special to The Times
AT Bishop Blanchet High School’sannual spirit celebration Brave Day in May, the school administration kicked out 11 students and disciplined many more. The students were expelled or asked to withdraw for allegedly using edible marijuana, according to parents.
For many of these students at this private Seattle Catholic high school, it was their first offense of any kind.
The school’s policy on alcohol and drug use is that students who possess or use either at school will be put on emergency removal and might be expelled. Selling alcohol or drugs results in immediate expulsion.
Based on my reading of the handbook, the school principal Sheila Kries should have called for a full disciplinary hearing, even though the school says the handbook was followed.
The school administration chose to follow a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy without alerting parents, causing widespread anger among the school community.
The administration received more than 40 letters from concerned parents over this Brave Day debacle, but it has tried to cover up the incident and hope it goes away.
It will not go away. With the new marijuana law recently taking effect in Washington, school administrators at Blanchet and elsewhere will have to navigate the uncharted waters of more easily available marijuana.
I’m a parent at Bishop Blanchet. Earlier this year, school administrators asked one of my sons to withdraw under similar circumstances and he did.
Rather than simply kicking kids out of school for possessing or using pot, school administrators need to help guide kids through the complexities of the new law and culture. School officials need to address how to deal with readily available marijuana and why kids, who have still-developing brains, should avoid it.
This is a time of great confusion in our state regarding drug use — marijuana, a substance recently illegal, now has become legal for adults, although it is still illegal for anyone under 21.
Even the Seattle city attorney, Pete Holmes, who should have known better, bought some pot and made the ill-considered decision to bring it to his office at City Hall, an action he later apologized for. If the city attorney can make such a mistake, it’s no wonder that kids can make dumb choices.
Rather than helping students understand the implications of the new law, the Blanchet administration has refused to talk about the Brave Day debacle or the one-strike policy. At a meeting called in response to parental concerns, the administration refused to address why the kids were expelled. “We’re not discussing the past,” said Dean Sean Gaskill. “We’re here to talk about the future.” This was said even though the whole reason for the meeting was to address the events of Brave Day.
In a meeting I attended, Principal Kries claimed that the school handbook required her to expel students who broke the rules and used marijuana. But the student handbook also makes clear that the administration has considerable discretion in the application of these rules.
Many of the Blanchet students kicked out on Brave Day were labeled as drug distributors for sharing edible marijuana with a friend. They were banned from the campus as a threat to student safety. They were not allowed to attend a remembrance service for Molly Conley,a Blanchet student killed last year, and a friend of several of the kids expelled.
The administration’s harsh zero-tolerance policy leaves no provision for mercy and no opportunity to provide care and correction for teenagers on the cusp of adulthood.
The Blanchet administration’s one-strike expulsion policy is exactly the wrong way to deal with the new reality of marijuana in the state. School administrators at Blanchet and elsewhere need to guide and educate students about the new laws, using care and appropriate discipline to help them safely navigate these new and turbulent waters. If they don’t, they will alienate students, parents, alumni and the larger community, and might eventually have no students left to teach.
Nicholas O’Connell is a Bishop Blanchet parent in Seattle and founder of The Writer’s Workshop.