The Cambrian

Viewpoint: Trouble brews from superintendent's boilerplate

Everyone agrees it is a reasonable expectation that students not smoke, drink or do drugs as a condition of participation in an extracurricular activity. Unfortunately, the new student Code of Conduct submitted by the superintendent and passed by the Board of Trustees contains language that is ambiguous where it should be clear, complicated where it should be simple, and still asserts that a student who does not consume alcohol, tobacco or drugs is in violation of the code—not by their actions but rather their association.

The clause in question states: “Participants who attend an illegal activity are also subject to this policy even if they do not use drugs or alcohol.” This sentence invites controversy, and policy authors have already had to navigate the clause using a stated (but not codified) protocol. To paraphrase the administration: If students are present for more than 15 minutes and have knowledge of a code infraction, they have demonstrated intent and are therefore guilty. As one student pointed out, by this flawed logic, a designated driver is guilty of a code violation.

Criticism of the policy is not new; in fact, this Code of Conduct is not new either. It is a boilerplate lifted from Superintendent Adams’ last district. Shasta School District in Redding passed a strikingly similar code and was promptly sued on the grounds that it violated a student’s right to privacy, right to be free from unreasonable searches and was a denial of equal protections under the constitution. The suit also sued the Shasta superintendent and all board members for violating the California Constitution’s laws against illegal and wasteful expenditure of public funds. In May 2009 the courts ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in all arguments and granted a preliminary injunction that prohibits Shasta from enforcing the student Code of Conduct.

Our superintendent has a stated duty to fully inform the board of policy impact. It is hard to imagine he did not know about the court ruling or the financial cost of defending such a policy in a courtroom. The Board of Trustees has a stated duty to manage risk and district resources, and yet they have chosen to embrace a controversial policy with the risk of legal action. It is an interesting decision when our district is already facing budget challenges.

The Board of Trustees’ bylaws are quite clear: AR 9310 states no board policy, bylaw, or administrative regulation, or any portion thereof, shall be operative if it is found to be in conflict with applicable federal or state law or regulations or court decisions. The Education Code 35160 prohibits the board from financing any program or activity that is in conflict with, inconsistent with, or preempted by law.

To ignore the Shasta district lawsuit, the court ruling and to purposefully omit the ongoing legal debate over the constitutionality of the code from the board’s public review process is puzzling. It demonstrates, at best, ignorance of the issues and at worst a wanton disregard for the code and board bylaws by which the administration and School Board are governed.