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The value of athletics generates varying opinions across institutions of higher learning. While recognizing it's ability to teach life lessons, such as teamwork, the majority of schools view it as as a privilege instead of a right. Subsequently, the Cheshire Board of Education holds athletes in seventh through 12th grade to a separate code of conduct.
Policy number 5131.62, created in 1999, states, “It is the position of the Board of Education that students attain and retain this privilege by maintaining high standards of decorum, both in school and school-related activities, and outside of the school environment.”
However, the execution of that policy has recently come under fire.
A party, held in the morning hours on Halloween, Oct. 31, was investigated by the Cheshire Police Department. As per town ordinance, “10-9” citations were distributed to nine students for being in the presence of alcohol while underage. But, for those involved with Cheshire High School activities, the penalty was stiffer than the $135 fine.
The Board of Education policy dictates consequences for those caught in the vicinity of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs outside of school. The first offense is suspension from school activities for three weeks or six contests. For a second offense, the student receives suspension from all organizations for 180 days. Finally, a third violation represents a permanent ban.
Tom and Dyan Dupont, of Cheshire, whose daughter was issued a citation at the party and was forced to miss her final athletic event of the year, took exception to the handling of the situation. While condemning underage drinking, they have questioned whether it's fair to penalize a student-athlete for being at the wrong place and at the wrong time. A series of e-mails was distributed to parents within the CHS Girls' Soccer Parent's Association — of which Tom Dupont is president — coaches, Cheshire Board of Education members and administrators, calling for the punishments to be re-examined.
One of the main complaints of the Duponts, expressed in their e-mails, is the feeling that no consideration was given to which students were caught drinking and which students were simply in the presence of alcohol. The conduct code is applied without hearing from the students or seeking to understand the whole story, they claim.
“It has been really tough,” said Dyan Dupont, of how the incident has impacted her family. “I want the Board to understand how these actions affect the student. I think there is a better way to go about it.”
The Duponts stated that they plan to create a survey to get feedback from other families around town and then start a dialogue with the Cheshire Board of Education. An appeals process has been raised as a possible solution.
However, Board members and school administrators are standing behind the policy.
According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Florio, there was a revision made in 2005. Instead of only covering athletes during their athletic season, the students are held to the same code throughout the school year.
“If you look at the history, the Board of Education deliberated for about two years. They spoke to the administration, coaches, and the (marching) band,” recalled Florio.
For athletes, the role of team captain is also put in jeopardy when in violation of the policy. Athletic Director Steve Trifone takes the step of having captains stop by and sign another contract.
“The contract reads that they will abide by school policies and uphold leadership positions,” said Trifone. “I look at it as the whole school year and not just the season they are captain. Most captains are elected a year out and I look at their position starting from that point.”
Trifone says Cheshire's code of conduct is similar to other members of the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“I have seen some of them I think we are similar,” added Trifone. “Some of them have less days, but we mostly do the same penalty of taking 30 percent of your contests. The CIAC (Connecticut Conference Interscholastic Athletic Council) asks that you have a policy, but doesn't regulate it specifically.”
At the annual pre-season meeting before each school year, Trifone explains the policy and suggests athletes make good decisions when it comes to areas where alcohol, tobacco, or drugs are used illegally. He concedes the situation can be easier-said-than-done in some cases.
“We stress with the kids to avoid those situations. I understand with peer pressure that students want to join their friends,” explained Trifone. “Some students have told me that they weren't partaking in that stuff or didn't know it was going on when they got there. We've had kids get called up to pick up their friends and then receive a citation.”
Board member Tony Perugini has spoken about this issue on his blog, Tony Perugini Listens. His primary concern is what he calls “enablers.”
He defines them as the persons responsible for bringing alcohol or illegal substances, hosts of the parties, parents/guardians who condone the behavior, and those selling the items.
In a comment made on the blog, he stated that, “It's clear and just, via the policy, what happens to students caught in these situations. But, I also believe that perhaps more needs to be done by holding the enablers responsible as well. I believe this is law enforcements' responsibility as well as DCF (Department of Children and Families). I can't recall ever reading a story about persons responsible for hosting a busted party nor what the consequences were for them, if any.”