The Removal of the “in the Presence Rule” Is a Step in the Right Direction

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The Removal of the “in the Presence Rule” Is a Step in the Right Direction

Molly O'Connell

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The Walpole School Committee held a public meeting on Aug. 31 to decide the fate of Walpole High’s School Chemical Health Policy. The recent removal of the “in the presence” phrase indicates that the committee’s primary concern appropriately is student safety, not unfair consequences.

As defined in the Walpole High School handbook, a chemical health violation is explained that “possession means being ‘in the presence of’ and shall include being or remaining at a site, or in a building, residence, or vehicle in which a controlled substance or alcohol is being used, consumed, or possessed.”

Previously mentioned in an article entitled “Walpole High’s strict chemical health policy could be the cause of high violations” by Wicked Local Walpole in 2015, “more than 50 student-athletes were found to be in violation of the Walpole High School Chemical Health Policy [in 2014-2015].” These raw numbers sound alarming, “especially when a number of fellow Bay State Conference schools were in the single digits.”

Because of Walpole’s more stringent policy, “it’s likely for a school that uses a stricter version of the rule to have more violators than a school that chooses to use the MIAA version, resulting in an apples-to-oranges comparison.”

Therefore, this current alteration is a step in the right direction, especially for the students who were simply in the presence of, but not consuming, alcohol, yet were forced to deal with the same consequences—such as sitting out of sports and/or extracurriculars—as those who were actually consuming it. These consequences should not have been applicable to people affected by guilt by association if they were not taking part in illegal behavior and were staying sober.

The new Chemical Health Policy states that “students shall not, regardless of quantity, use or consume, possess or buy/sell or give away” any controlled substance or alcohol. This change will truly benefit students, as they can now follow the MIAA guidelines, and they are not held to a stricter standard than other towns.

The zero-tolerance policy hindered students from attending practically any large social event. Finding students at a party will not be enough to punish them anymore, for the new policy is indicative of student safety being preeminent, and it does not aim to simply get students in trouble.

 Moreover, the policy now provides student safety to the entire student body, as they hopefully feel comfortable to call for a ride home from friends or family. Previously, students who were asked to help their friend or family member under the legal drinking age were faced with two options: having to tell their friend no or being pressured to drive there and possibly face the “in the presence of” consequences. In the case that they do tell their friend no, the potential drivers are somewhat responsible if their friend takes part in dangerous activities, such as driving themselves and others while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Preventing drunk driving—which is created through endless commercials, advertisements and seminars— is now appropriately being supported by the school community.

The Chemical Health Policy should be more strictly enforced now, and hopefully it will set a harsher precedent that the use of drugs and alcohol will not be permitted among the students. However, things are looking up for Walpole High School students, as students can now feel ensured that they are appropriately cared for when faced in treacherous situations.