It’s no secret what happened a few weeks ago on campus. Between the one student who withdrew from Deerfield facing disciplinary action and the seven students who faced the DC, most members of our community are acquainted with someone involved in what has been widely referred to as “the drug bust.”
I was one of the seven. And one of my good friends was the one. Despite the fact that I was as close to the situation as one could be, I still don’t know what to think. I continue to ask myself hard questions.
Is it fair that seven students had to go before the DC, while every student who wasn’t implicated by the confiscated phone received amnesty? Is it right that some of the worst drug offenders on campus simply had to put their “stashes” in a cardboard box, while seven of their peers, some of whom had violated the drug and alcohol policy just one time, were suspended?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. It makes sense that the administration took action against the students for whom they had incriminating evidence, but why did they stop where they did? Why didn’t they confiscate everyone’s phone?
There has been a lot of discussion on campus regarding the privacy aspect of this case. Many members of our community are pondering the following: Why was the administration allowed to confiscate a student’s phone and computer? What gave the deans the power to search through the private property of a student and use it as evidence in a disciplinary hearing? Is that fair? Is that even legal?
After a discussion with Dean of Students Amie Creagh, I found the answers to some of these questions.
Yes, the school has the right to search through a student’s private property if there is “reasonable suspicion” of misconduct.
However, Ms. Creagh stressed that the administration only ever does this in exceptional circumstances. The two examples offered were drug dealing and compromising photos, both of which are punishable by law.
At this point, you might be outraged. You might be thinking to yourself: “The school should not have the right to my private property. This is not what I thought I signed up for when I came to Deerfield.”
Or you might be neutral: “What do I care if the school can go through my phone? I have nothing to hide.” You might even be relieved that the school is equipped with the tools to combat drug use and other illicit activities on campus.
Wherever you are on this spectrum, take a moment, and realize what could have happened.
Worst-case scenario: if Deerfield were a public school, the first thing the administration would have had to do if they were forced to confront a case of drug-dealing on campus is call the police. Instead of going home to finish out the remainder of the year, the member of our community who withdrew could be in a juvenile detention center, and have a criminal record to contend with for the rest of her life.
Instead Of making statements to read in front of fellow classmates and teachers on the DC, the seven students implicated on the phone could have had to make statements to the police.
Even some of our peer schools have to involve their local police each time there is a drug offense on campus. And not just for cases of dealing; if any student is caught using drugs, some prep schools, like Exeter, for example, are required to contact the police.
With this information in mind, it’s worth considering that Deerfield might actually be protecting us from a harsh reality that many of us have never even considered.
Unfortunately, as is true for many high schools, drug use is widespread at Deerfield– widespread to the point that people who are caught consider themselves unlucky, rather than wrong.
We as a community need to address the why of the issue. Not the who, what, where, when, or how. We cannot hope to solve this problem unless we understand why kids are using. Are there addicts on campus? Are kids bored? Are they stressed? Is it a result of this generation of teenagers feeling like they are invincible? Or are some kids using to cope with personal issues that they’re struggling with?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the drugs are not the issue. It’s the feelings, thoughts and pressures that drive people to use.
The stark truth is that the majority of people using drugs are only worried about getting caught and having to explain the dreaded three-day suspension to colleges—not with the moral issues involved. And yes, many kids who face a drug-and-alcohol DC will never use these substances on campus again. But off campus? You can be fairly certain that some users will go home for break and indulge over the duration of their “freedom.”
Why does the student body react to a drug-and-alcohol DC differently than a DC dealing with the school’s honor code? Why is smoking a joint different from cheating on a test? Or telling a lie?
I think it’s because we, as Deerfield students, consider lying and cheating immoral. Drug use, on the other hand, is widely viewed as acceptable. We’re teenagers, and rebelling comes naturally to us. The percentage of kids who experiment with drugs before graduating from high school is huge—so, do we consider using drugs to be immoral? No, because it’s so often seen as typical.
This is why a change needs to be made. The way our community thinks about drugs needs to be altered. Restorative measures need to supplement punitive ones. We need more conversations and fewer DCs.
What many people don’t know, however, is that we have already started down that path.
I think it is important that the school community be aware about what course of action the school is taking to address the drug problem on campus before it judges the administration for its decisions. It is clear that the administration, as well as other leaders in our community, are working to combat the drug problem with measures that surpass the merely punitive. And while we have a long way to go, we are taking the right first steps.
The administration has spoken on its plans for the next few months:
•Ms.Creagh’s comments at school meeting encouraged students to get help from the Health Center. She hopes she made it clear that she understands adolescent mistakes, as she made a lot of them. More than anything, her hope is for Deerfield students to be healthy and grow healthy habits when they’re here.
•The administration offered an amnesty/”reset” so that kids could begin to remove drugs and alcohol from their lives freely. Doing right after wrong is a big point of emphasis for those in the Deans’ Office because it shows growth.
•The administration held a faculty meeting just after these drug events to help colleagues support students who may be struggling with drugs and alcohol. The hope was to raise both awareness and support.
•The administration is going to meet with proctors and peer counselors about drug and alcohol use on campus so they can refer students to the Health Center for help.
•A group of students on campus who’ve been involved with drugs and/or alcohol will meet with younger students and health classes to talk about the very stressors I articulate in this article. Ideally, this impacts a full “generation” of DA kids, who then move on to handle stress and boredom, for example, without harming themselves with drugs and alcohol.
•Ms. Loftus is tapping into a similar pool of students to work with the Circle of Trust / Gordie Foundation.
•The Deerfield Magazine plans to write an article about use on campus that highlights these very leadership moments for former users, sharing their positive stories so that others might then learn most effectively from their mistakes.
•Ms. Creagh has emailed all parents in an effort to partner with them in these important conversations about use, reasons for it and ways to deter it. If our conversations here at school are mirrored and echoed at home, the message might resonate more loudly with students.
•Ms. Creagh met with the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees last weekend to talk about ways they might get involved and help.
•The administration rearranged the full academic schedule on November 13 to accommodate Chris Herren and Project Purple. We hope to show this ESPN 30 for 30 prior to Chris’s visit: http://espn.go.com/espn/espnfilms/story/_/id/6961212/unguarded
•On January 28, Dr. Mark Stonkus will be our School Meeting speaker. (One of Deerfield’s former users has worked closely with him already.) Dr. Stonkus runs FitOut, a group that focuses on peer pressure and some of the other reasons kids may choose to use drugs. Before his visit, this current student/former user will distribute a survey of the student body so we can begin to gather data on use. We’ll use this data to measure our progress in addressing the problem. After the FitOut presentation, students will be asked to participate in student-led, “grassroots” monthly meetings, each of which focuses on a different cause of use.
•Ms. Creagh has reached out to two recent graduates who were involved with drugs and/or alcohol to see if they might come back to talk with seniors in the spring. It would augment our meeting about the 16-day rule in ways that would probably be more impactful.