Walpole High School Administration Should Reconsider the Decision to Cancel School Dances

Principal Stephen Imbusch recently made the decision to cancel all school sponsored dances at Walpole High School, excluding the Freshman Semi-formal and Prom. The decision gained national attention from The Wall Street Journal as well as localized recognition from The Walpole Times, The Boston Globe, Fox 25 and CBS Boston. Imbusch made a formal  announcement about the cancellation of the dances to the parents of Walpole High School students through an e-note, a weekly informational letter, published on Sept. 16. However, Imbusch never communicated to the students themselves that the dances were cancelled.

  There is no doubt that  Walpole  High  School  is facing a huge chemical health problem. Principal Imbusch is not wrong in his analysis of the unsafe environments at school events; after Imbusch’s statements to parents, it’s clear that the safety of students at these events has been a questionable subject for at least the past two years. Therefore, Imbusch’s decision is valid, considering the fact that the cancellation of the events will realistically minimize the  danger  for  both  students  under  the  influence and those  in  a  school  environment  with  others who are  intoxicated. Though Imbusch  made the decision with  the  protection  of  students  in  mind,  his  choice was too  radical.  There  are  alternative  ways  to  create a  safer  environment  at  school  and  reduce  chemical health  infractions  without  cancelling  the  dances. We  can  foster  a  safer  environment  without  punishing the majority  of  students  for  actions  they  didn’t  take.

Communication

  On the first day of this school year, Principal Stephen Imbusch and Assistant Principals Lee Tobey and Sean Powers gathered each grade to brief students  on  the  changes  made  to  the  vaporizer, tardy  and  cheating  policies. Though an  informative  introduction  to the  school  year,  at  this  briefing, administration  failed  to  inform the  student  body  that  they  had eliminated  all  school  dances except  for  Prom  and  Freshman  Semi-formal. Students found  out  that  the  dances were cancelled  not  through their own  administrators, but rather, through an article published in The Walpole Times. And although most people were unaware, according to a recent article published in The Wall Street Journal, Imbusch made the initial decision to end school dances last spring.

  Moreover, parents were completely unaware  of the problems at school dances because, again, administration failed to communicate. Although administration has been attempting to improve communication with the students through the recent creation of groups like The Round Table, a collaboration that allows  administration  to  gain  input  from  a male  and   female  representative   of     

each grade, the original cancellation was shocking for many students. Specifically for parents, the announcements that have followed the cancellation are even more concerning. Why did administration, if the dances really were so dangerous, not communicate with the parents beforehand?

  “As the night progressed, the behavior of these students deteriorated to a point that would embarrass any parent in Walpole; students falling around the dance floor being held up by their peers; students throwing up in the bathroom; students dancing in ways that shocks the teachers and the adults who are in charge of educating and shaping the future of those students,” Imbusch wrote. “This behavior is fueled by the music, the lights, the ‘safety in numbers,’ and the alcohol.”

     This  inappropriate  behavior is  clearly  not  a  new  development, so parents should have been made aware  of  the  potential  danger at school dances well before the dances were cancelled about three weeks ago.

Walpole High School’s Reputation

  Media coverage of the decision portrays the school negatively and suggests that all students partake in inappropriate behavior. The students at Walpole High School participate in sports teams that regularly qualify for tournament, a Student Council that is recognized on the national level, a Robotics team that visited the world competition last year, a Speech and Debate  team  that  sends  students  to the National tournament, and a film program that produces professional-grade projects—among  various  other  outstanding  extracurriculars. But instead of acknowledging these achievements, the media portrays Walpole High students  as  the  kids who are too drunk for their own school dances, similar to how the media has previously portrayed them as Confederate Flag fanatics.

  In The Boston Globe, Imbusch explains that he cancelled the dances to protect students from possibly dangerous situations.

  “In the meantime, before one of your children gets hurt or mistreated on the dance floor, gets assaulted after they leave the dance by an intoxicated student, or wraps their car around a tree, I maintain my stance regarding dances at Walpole High School,” he said. “It is impossible to sanction events that can possibly put students in such grave danger.” Though Imbusch meant to use this statement as a way to show parents the dangers of the dances, the media ran with the severe speculations he made to the point that Walpole High students were generalized as aggressive and impulsive teenagers.

  Furthermore, media coverage misconstrues the facts of student misdemeanors. The article in The Boston Globe states that in the past two years, Walpole High had 33 drug and alcohol violations, with 12 that occurred at school dances. While these statistics are correct, several media outlets failed to recognize the fact that chemical health violations on the whole have decreased. Drug and alcohol violations are those that occur on school property, for example when a student is in possession of or under the influence of illegal substances  while at school or a school-sponsored event. Chemical health violations, on the other hand, include any and all alcohol violations whether on school property or off school property. Drug and alcohol violations are also considered chemical health violations. The 2014-2015 school year alone had 62 chemical health infractions, but this number decreased to 26 in the 2015-2016 school year. Is it not important to note the 58% drop in chemical health violations in the past two years? But aside from the media’s portrayal of WHS students, these statistics raise another interesting question: why are students facing stricter punishments this year if there has been an improvement in the number of  violations in the past two years?

Solutions

  It is time for Walpole to take ownership of its issues. Teen drinking is a major problem and steps must be taken to educate students before it is too late. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 33% of students have had at least one drink by age 15, and 60% have had at least one drink by age 18. Alarming as this may be, it is the reality of the situation. Though the school should promote avoidance of alcohol and other drugs, the school must also inform students more realistically on ways to stay safe when they  do  encounter  alcohol;  whether students encounter alcohol in their high school career or later in life, the knowledge of smarter drinking habits could prevent future tragedies like the ones Imbusch mentions as possible outcomes of school dances.

  By cancelling the dances, administration  treated the  drinking  issue  as  an insurmountable  problem. Last year,  backpacks and bags were banned from the football games, and a student-only entrance was added. These changes and preventative measures that ensured a safer environment at the football games worked to solve the chemical health violation problem without banning students from football games. Even though these measures have been put in place, student attendance at the football games and participation in the Brigade have been greater than ever before. This solution to drinking at football games should be applied to school dances.

     Like at football games, students should not be permitted to bring bags into the dances. If students arrive to dances drunk, behave drunkenly or behave inappropriately at all, immediately remove them from the dance. Then, put them into police custody and keep them there until they can be safely escorted home by their parents. Underage drinking is a crime and it is time that the school treats it as such. If students drink on school grounds, punishment is in order. Students should not be allowed to attend future events after they drink. And if certain students are acting as obscenely as administration claims, why does administration continue to allow them to stay and return to more dances?

  One  question  remains:  why  did  administration immediately jump to the conclusion that the only way to solve the problems at school dances was to cancel them entirely? In the same way that administration worked constructively to foster a safer environment for spectators at school sporting events, they should have attempted  to establish more positive solutions  before instituting the most radical option possible—one that is divisive, controversial and uncompromising.  With increased communication and trust, students and administration can work together to create a positive and protected school environment.

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