Arlington Schools Giving First-Time Substance Offenders a ‘Second Chance’

by ARLnow.com June 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm 3,500 42 Comments

Arlington County launched a new initiative today to address youth substance abuse. Officials say the two-year pilot program, the first of its kind, may eventually become a model for other communities nationwide.

The so-called “Second Chance” program will allow middle and high school students caught with alcohol or marijuana to avoid school suspensions and criminal prosecution. To enter the program, students must be first-time offenders and must have the active participation of their parents or guardians.

Students referred to Second Chance by schools, police, courts or parents will attend an educational, three-day “early intervention” program, as well as a subsequent “booster session.” The time in the program will be considered an excused absence from school. Supporters say that the “second chance” allows students to avoid the negative impacts of school suspensions and other traditional forms of punishment.

“To suspend a student for five or ten days, to have them sitting at home and missing school — maybe their parents are there or maybe they’re not — is not an effective way to deal with someone who’s just getting involved in drugs and alcohol,” said Arlington School Board member Abby Raphael. “We need to intervene, we need education, we need to get the parents involved, and we need to [prevent students from] falling further behind in school.”

The mandatory parental component of the program, Raphael said, is crucial to the program’s success.

“We know that to really be successful in preventing kids from using drugs and alcohol… parents have to be involved,” she said.

Raphael, who spoke alongside County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes at this morning’s launch event at the Arlington Central Library, said that the program will be closely monitored. If it proves successful, the program may be duplicated elsewhere.

“We’re already having discussions with the Department of Education,” Raphael said. “We absolutely hope that this can be a model for the country.”

The County Board has approved $130,000 in funding for the program’s two-year pilot period. The liquor industry-funded and Arlington-based Century Council contributed an additional $50,000 in funding, while the Arlington READY Coalition provided another $20,000.

Officials expect about 200 kids to go through the program in its first year.

  • Josh S

    “The first of its kind” ??!? What does that mean? I think reasoned and measured discipline predates Zero Tolerance. Zero Tolerance was dreamt up in the 80s and 90s by fearful, small-thinking, heartless slaves to the institution. Every chip away at its oppressive edifice is to be cheered, but please don’t try to make it seem like a return to sanity is innovative in any way.

    • Maria

      My sense is that “first of its kind” refers to the details of the plan… intervention program, etc.

  • doodly

    I think it’s sad that we’re reading a story like this. This should already be the policy. Zero tolerance was a pathetic, idiotic idea. They’re children – they’re going to make mistakes. They need to learn from them, not suffer the rest of their lives.

  • brendan

    good step…

    i think Arlington public schools in general are pretty lax, and would like them to be more strict in terms of the minor things…but it’s kinda crazy how far schools systems have taken punishment for a small portion of offenses and created ridiculously disruptive and counterproductive punishments.

  • Stu Pendus

    How do they manage that “avoid criminal prosecution” part? Are the police and prosecutors involved in this program, or is the information withheld?

    • Yes, Arlington Public Schools, Arlington Police and the Arlington Juvenile Court are all among the program “partners.”

  • novasteve

    Yet they wouldn’t get a second chance for LEGAL products like aspirin or if they dare to bring in unhealthy foods?

    • Arlington, Northside

      Don’t forget lego pistols forgotten in the bottom of kindergartener’s backpacks….

  • G Clifford Prout

    I am a product of a much earlier age. An age where we snuck out of school for a smoke, borrowed our parents booze, and did nasty things in the boy’s room down by the gym. From my vantage point we all turned out just fine.

    • Skeptical

      Words for the ages. The law was made for Man, not Man for the law. Schools were never really good on that point and have now become ridiculous.

      I’m aware of one case involving a young man who came to class a little high, got suspended for a week, was brought back in for a dressing-down and imposition of prison-like strictures by an assistant superintendent he had never met, and very understandably dropped out, got a GED and went to work. He’s not doing badly, but he’d probably be doing better if he’d finished his senior year.

      Everyone who knew the kid sized up his situation and said “Teenage make pulls a**hole stunt — BFD!” Everyone except the people in the school system with the power to control his education, that is. It’s time for a reality check.

      • Skeptical

        Oops, meant “teenage male.”

        He could have been on the make too but I was not close enough to share that sort of information.

      • Maria

        Wait… you think it’s “very understandable” for a senior in high school who broke the law by doing drugs and coming to school high to drop out because he was suspended for a week and had to follow a strict routine when he came back to his own school?

        You blame the school for that? I’m aware I’m making a judgment about a person I’ve never met and a situation about which I know only what you’ve said, so I could be totally wrong, but my suspicion is that this kid was probably a habitual drug user who hated school and was looking for any excuse to get out. People don’t just leave school at the drop of a hat. I’m not a fan of zero tolerance (not that it was used in that situation or he probably would have been kicked out of school), but his dropping out does not sound like the fault of the school.

        • Skeptical

          Yes, you are making a judgment about someone you don’t know. The young gentleman in question was 18 and a legal adult, had smoked some weed before and I don’t doubt has done so since, but was also very active at school events and considered an asset to at least one of the school’s programs, to the point that the principal pleaded with him to reconsider dropping out. After the hectoring lecture that he got from some woman he’d never met, culminating in a demand that he consent to a search of his person or locker at any time during the rest of the school year or else be kicked out, he chose to do what you or I would probably do — exercise our rights as legal adults and proceed with our lives somewhere that we weren’t being infantilized and treated like prisoners.

          I can think of many reasons to wish he’d sucked it up and finished the school year, but I simply can’t pretend I don’t understand his position.

          • Maria

            What you just added to your description about him doesn’t change my mind about what I said. Habitual drug user. Probably didn’t like school that much or he would have sucked it up and finished, particularly because, according to you, he had reasons to stay (and by the way, people can be involved in school activities but hate school itself). Also, being a legal adult doesn’t have a thing to do with punishment for doing something illegal, and, in fact, it makes me feel even less sorry for him because you can’t use the “he was just a kid and didn’t understand the consequences” excuse.

            Also, you’re saying he got a “hectoring lecture.” Boo hoo. And students don’t actually have to consent to having their lockers searched, so I’m not sure why that would be part of their “demands.”

            And if this happened to me (which it wouldn’t have because I didn’t use drugs, and I certainly would have been smart enough never to go to school high if I had), I would exercise my right to not be a dope by dropping out of school when I likely had only months left. As for being treated like a prisoner (most ridiculous accusation about schools ever), he’s lucky he got caught in school and not in the real world where he might have actually BEEN a prisoner.

            But all of that is not the point I was trying to make. If dropping out is what this person believed was his best option, then awesome. I have no special feelings one way or another about what he did/does with his life. The point I was trying to make in the first place is that what he chose to do was NOT the school’s fault, and actually, his punishment sounds fairly mild compared to the zero tolerance-type punishments ACPS is trying to move away from.

          • Skeptical

            Well, I’m so glad that you have such impeccable judgment, self-discipline, and high standards that you would never, ever have done anything that might force you to face two unpalatable choices and can sit aloft on your heavenly seat declaring a person a “habitual drug user.” Oh, let me add clairvoyance, since you clearly are completely aware of everything relevant about this young man’s life and encounter with the school administration, something even I cannot claim after several years’ acquaintance.

            Does it occur to you that the point here is to keep young people in school despite the feckless exploits that seem to characterize adolescence, and that zero-tolerance policies, which can make a single fairly minor incident the potential end of a school career. might not be compatible with that goal? May I remind you that the proposition here was that a student consent not just to inspection of his locker but to having someone detain him and demand that he turn out his pockets and backpack, for no reason, randomly, at any time during the remainder of the school year. This incident pitted an administrator brought in as a “hit person” for the zero tolerance policy against a principal who wanted to keep a bright, talented boy in class, and couldn’t do much about it.

            I never smoked so much as a cigarette in my life, much less in school, in fact I don’t recall ever even cutting class, but I’ve managed to be humble enough not to make blanket assumptions about people who committed all the under-20 screwups. That is the problem with zero tolerance policies. They allow an administrator no room for exercise of his/her own judgment or of the mentoring role that an adult can have in a young person’s life.

            I sincerely hope to Billy Jesus that you never have any role in determining what becomes of a young person who does not have an actual halo floating over his or her head.

          • Maria

            Yes, my admission that I didn’t do drugs in high school and wouldn’t have chosen to drop out of school definitely implied that I believe myself to have “impeccable judgment, self-discipline, and high standards” and that I “sit aloft on a heavenly seat”. Talk about a blanket assumption. I also stated quite clearly that I didn’t know all the details of the situation and could have been wrong, but it seems you know everything about me… enough to hope I have no role in the lives of young people. Pot, meet kettle.

            I have just a few more things to add because beyond that, I feel like this is just going to go in circles. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

            1. You said this person used drugs before and after this incident. Maybe habitual is a strong word, but this is apparently someone who used drugs enough that he was smoking in the morning before school. So fine, call it what you want. It isn’t even really relevant to the point I was trying to make that his decision to drop out of school was his, and it was not the fault of the school officials who caught a kid doing something illegal and dealt with it the best way their rules allowed. Were they good rules? No, but the whole point of this article is that school systems are realizing that and starting the process of changing them.

            2. I actually deal with teenagers in a school setting every day, and I do my job damn well, so I have quite a bit more insight into the teenage brain and the way school systems work than most people do; I am not just pulling ideas out of thin air. Are the things I said about this guy generalizations? Of course, and like I clearly said in my first comment, I don’t know this person and could have been wrong.

            3. You seem to have missed my point completely. As I said, I disagree with zero-tolerance policies, and while I don’t know all the details of his punishment (and based on what I do know, potentially don’t agree with it), this was not a “zero-tolerance” situation. If it was, he likely wouldn’t have even still been in that school. He chose to remove himself from school, which I also stated was a perfectly fine choice for him if that’s what he wanted to do.

            My last point is this: just as you accuse me of thinking I’m sitting on a throne of roses and butterflies, I might say the same of you. It is really easy to criticize a school system from the outside, particularly when you have personal knowledge of someone’s negative experience. But when you’re in the position of dealing with the health and safety of thousands and thousands of children, then you might have a better idea of the struggles that administrators and other school officials face in trying to find a system that works for the huge variety of people and issues they deal with every day. Nothing is going to work for everyone, but I guess we can at least agree that “zero tolerance” is one of the least effective methods of handling these issues.

          • Josh S

            Yeah, you can backtrack all you want, but your post above sounds very much like a person who is pretty comfortable with throwing labels around and judging folks who don’t choose to maintain the same lifestyle as your own or react to situations the way you might.

            Is it the school’s FAULT that he dropped out? I don’t know, but it certainly played a role and it sounds very much like the administrators could have made different decisions that would have recognized that shepherding this guy through to graduation was more important than teaching some “lesson” about obeying the rules.

          • Maria

            First, I don’t think anything I said above was backtracking. I mostly just reiterated my original (lost in the rhetoric) point from my first response.

            And second, all right everybody; if you’re going to accuse someone of making judgments about others based on very little information as if it’s the worst thing one could do, you can’t do the same thing yourself. You’re both judging my entire personality based on 3 comments I made on a website. But I’m sure this is the first time in your life you’ve EVER judged someone you didn’t know based on very little information. Right?

            As for me, do I judge people who go to school high as having made a poor decision? Yes. I think that’s really dumb. Sorry if you think that’s “throwing labels around” or is the equivalent of a belief that the only good people are those with “actual halos” around their heads. I also, based on my years of experience dealing with teenagers in a classroom, made a tentative assumption about the nature of this person’s feelings about school, not him as a person. Could I have been wrong? Sure, and I said so very clearly before I even said it in the first place. Do I judge him to be a bad person? No. I know plenty of wonderful people who have made what I believe to be poor decisions (yes, I’m allowed to have opinions about things, as are others who disagree with me). And I’m sure you’re thinking, “well she said she wouldn’t be a ‘dope’ and drop out of school so she must have meant she thought he was a dope”… fine. While I didn’t mean it as an attack on his character, I get that interpretation, and I apologize.

            And lastly, I’ll say again that I think you’re both missing what I intended as my point from the very beginning. Forget I said a thing about him and his drug use if it helps. I don’t necessarily agree with his punishment. But he made his own choice to drop out of school. The original poster even said the principal *tried* to get him to stay and graduate. And his decision was absolutely spurred by the punishment, but couldn’t he have taken the responsibility to shepherd himself through to graduation if it was something he truly felt was necessary?

    • Maria

      I agree with your general point of “kids are kids, they make mistakes, they’ll mostly be fine as adults,” but for the sake of argument, what should schools do? If students are doing *illegal* things at school, how are schools to react? They can’t just turn a blind eye. Maybe zero tolerance isn’t the best solution, but if kids get caught, they have to face consequences, whether they meant any harm or not, or whether they’re going to be “just fine” or not.

      • Arlwhenever

        The schools stayed out of law enforcement when I was a kid unless someone was getting hurt. They did it then and they can do it now.

        • Maria

          What you’re saying is that if a kid gets caught doing something illegal, the police should be called and the school is then out of it?

          • Josh S

            Hitting someone on the street is battery and a crime. Getting into a fight in the cafeteria, therefore, could theoretically be prosecuted as a crime. But it’s not. It makes sense because the school, as a social institution that we entrust our kids to should be able to handle these things internally as much as possible.

          • Maria

            Were you trying to reply to Arlwhenever’s comment? Or a reply to my question? I meant my question to him/her as an actual question to clarify what he/she said above… it wasn’t rhetorical.

      • Finally!

        Often times, when kids in Arlington get charged with an alcohol or marijuana violation, it is outside of school and not during school hours. Even then, the school gets involved. How does that make sense? I understand that if a kid gets caught doing some during school hours and on school grounds, the school has every right to get involved. But when the kid is at some friends house at a party on the weekend and gets busted, why should the school get involved?

        • Stu Pendus

          I was wondering the same thing. The details and how they implement this will be interesting.

          Like if two kids get caught smoking pot, and one is from Falls Church, does the Arlington kid get put in this program and the Falls Church kid goes to court?

  • TGEoA

    Don’t get caught.

  • Finally!

    I’d say it’s about time that such a policy was instituted. I saw many of my friends and my brother’s friends get caught up in the local justice system all because it started out with a simple alcohol or marijuana charge. Once you’re in the system, it’s hard to get out. Lots of kids missed out on other opportunities because they had this stuff on their record. As doodly above said, kids are going to make mistakes. Whoever thinks that a typical teen isn’t going to drink beer or smoke weed if given the chance certainly doesn’t remember what is was like when they were that age.

  • johnny b

    So, you can get sent home for wearing a T-shirt advocating drug use, but actually using drugs is OK.
    Makes sense to me.

    • Stu Pendus

      Selective tolerance is best tolerance!

  • novasteve

    I drank a few times in high school. In fact I went on an exchange program to Belgium and the exchange school in Belgium served wine at our welcome dinner and I got pretty buzzed. I turned out to be a straight A student, and attended a top 25 university, then law school. I think these nanny staters really need to take a chill pill.

    • Maria

      But I bet you didn’t drink AT school. Don’t you think schools have an obligation to protect children while on school grounds? If zero-tolerance isn’t the answer (it isn’t), what is? It’s not an easy call to make.

      • Arlington, Northside

        70’s and early 80’s when the drinking age in Virginia was 18, there as a fair amount of drinking in Arlington and Fairfax county schools. A different time.

        • Maria

          Hadn’t thought of that. Out of sheer curiosity, when did that happen? Dances/sporting events?

      • Josh S

        No, it’s not an easy call to make. But that’s why we’re the adults. We have the maturity, the experience, the reason and the compassion to make difficult judgment calls. Removing all of this and implementing any kind of zero tolerance policy serves to infantilize all of us.

  • Southeast Ben

    I wish JMU (where I picked up my underage drinking) had a first offense program that didn’t put it on your record. Those police are crazy about alcohol. I guess kids start early offending around these parts.

  • Arlington, Northside

    A suspension is not zero tolerance, Expulsion is zero tolerance.

  • Pingback: Arlington County finds new way to combat teen drug abuse – WTOP |()

  • PHD

    I wonder if this is at all related to that very sad story recently of the Fairfax County student who got caught up in a marijuana use charge and ended up committing suicide.
    I think it’s getting harder and harder to draw the line between what schools should or should not be responsible for. The whole cyber-bullying thing is an example – most of that behavior actually takes place outside of school, but spills over into and has very significant impacts within school.


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