Editor's Note: How rigorously do Homer High School officials enforce rules against drinking by students and student athletes? Are those rules enforced fairly? How does Homer High compare in overall disciplinary incidents to other Kenai Peninsula Borough School District high schools? In this two-part series, the Homer News examines those issues. This week's story looks at how Homer High enforces its rules and how it compares to other schools. Next week, we'll look at recent investigations, punishments, reactions and suggestions for change.
A Sept. 9 teen drinking party in which a 17-year-old boy was sexually assaulted has caused Homer to look at the issues of sexual assault, bullying and underage drinking. Fourteen student athletes at the Sept. 9 party were suspended from sports, and two high school students and one college student have been charged with sexual assault in that case.
Parents also complained about drinking at the Sept. 29 Homer High School homecoming dance, and a school investigation led to suspensions of six more students.
Homer High School Principal Dr. Allan Gee says he has consistently enforced Kenai Peninsula Borough School District policies on tobacco, alcohol and drug use. However, the events at the Sept. 8 party have focused more attention on how the district enforces those policies.
So far this year, 20 student athletes have been suspended from school activities for violations of tobacco, alcohol and drug policies, Gee said.
While that's a record for the past five years at Homer High, in terms of all reported discipline incidents and compared to other borough schools, Homer High rates at the bottom -- a point Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater made at an Oct. 4 parent meeting at Homer High School in response to the Sept. 8 teen drinking incident.
"Consistently what I found was Homer High School was at the bottom," he said. "What I found -- the kids here at Homer High School are by and large the best kids in the school district."
An analysis of information provided to the Homer News by the school district supports that claim. Pegge Erkeneff, communications specialist for the school district, noted that statistics provided are only for suspensions and expulsions and don't show all disciplinary reports made and actions taken. Sanctions can include community service, detention, loss of Internet privileges, loss of parking privileges, a parent meeting and suspension from co-curricular activities.
At Homer High, violations have increased for the tobacco, alcohol and drug, or TAD, rules in place for students participating in Alaska Student Activities Association (ASAA) sanctioned events. For Homer, over the past five years, TAD sanctions went from just one in 2008-09 to 20 this school year as of Nov. 13.
Statewide, TAD violations also have increased, from 233 in 2008-09 to 513 last school year.
The Kenai Peninsula school district applies a stricter rule, called the proximity rule, that punishes students not only for possession and use, but being near other people possessing and using, so the statewide numbers aren't an exact comparison.
An analysis of the suspensions and expulsions for all rules infractions shows that Homer is near the top for a 5-year total, with 724 violations, just below Nikiski Middle/Senior High School with 902 violations and right above Skyview with 723 violations (see Table 1).
|Table 1: Incidents per year resulting in suspension or expulsion|
What that comparison doesn't take into account is how the size of the student population in each school varies.
This year, Homer High has 410 students, Kenai Central has 530, Seward 190, Soldotna 499 and Nikiski Middle-High 414. When weighing those incidents per student and averaging them over five years, Homer ranks at the bottom, with .044 incidents per student, compared to Nikiski at .110 per student. The highest incident per student number for Homer was .078 incidents in 2009 and the lowest was .027 incidents per student in 2011 (see Table 2).
|Table 2: Average number of incidents per student, 2009-2013|
Over the last five years, some of the most common infractions at Homer High have been disruptive behavior (59 suspensions or expulsions), fighting (36), intimidation and hazing (20), tardiness (99) and truancy (32). For alcohol possession and use, there were nine suspensions and for drug possession and use there were 21 suspensions.
The Kenai Peninsula school district has two sets of rules for tobacco, alcohol and drug use by students, one for student athletes violating rules off-campus, and another set of rules for all students on campus. Student athletes violating tobacco, alcohol and drug rules off campus can be suspended or permanently banned from activities. Any students violating those rules on campus can be suspended or expelled from school.
For student athletes or students participating in ASAA-sanctioned events, under the ASAA Play for Keeps rules, students cannot possess, distribute or use tobacco, alcohol and drugs -- the "TAD" rule. ASAA-sanctioned events don't just mean sports, including cheerleading, but activities like student council and Drama, Debate and Forensics.
The Kenai Peninsula Student Activities Association (KPSAA) adds a stricter rule, the proximity rule, which also prohibits student athletes from "being in the same car, house, location, party and proximity where alcohol/drugs are known to be in illegal possession by minors or willingly remaining in a location or proximity where alcohol/drugs are being illegally consumed."
The school board adopted the proximity rule in June 2004, and it took effect in the 2004-05 school year. Students participating in ASAA activities sign a contract showing they understand the rules. Their parents also sign the contract.
The idea of the KPSAA proximity rule is to give student athletes a tool to avoid not just using alcohol and drugs, but being around alcohol and drugs and at parties where they're present.
Students can say, "I'm an athlete and cannot attend," said Homer High School Principal Dr. Allan Gee. "That's why I support it."
The KPSAA TAD proximity rule is the only enforcement tool school officials have for off-campus tobacco, alcohol and drugs conduct. While a student caught drinking off campus by police might be cited with minor consuming alcohol, technically a traffic offense and thus in the public record, unless that student also falls under ASAA and KPSAA rules, school officials can't apply consequences. That's because the rules only apply to students who participate in ASAA-sanctioned extracurricular activities.
Gee said school officials learn about tobacco, alcohol and drug violations off campus through a variety of ways, including self-reporting. Several student athletes at the Sept. 8 party confessed that they had been there.
"Students will come in, be honest, disclose information, ask that it remain anonymous," Gee said. "Quite often, several students will disclose the same information and confirm most likely what happens."
When he worked in the school system in Atlanta, Gee got training from cops there in doing field sobriety tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, or HGN, a test done to see how well a person's eyes track an object like a pen as it's moved in front of them.
"Quite often, if I start to conduct the HGN, students will disclose anyway," Gee said.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said Alaska law requires police to notify the school district when students are arrested for crimes that go to the Division of Juvenile Justice.
"The idea is to provide notification to the school if a student has committed a crime and that student's behavior could possibly endanger other students," Robl said. "It's all about keeping the campus and other students safe. That's the focus."
Robl said police also notify the school if a student is cited for minor consuming alcohol.
Sanctions for KPSAA TAD proximity violations range from a 10-day suspension from the activity -- but not school -- to permanent revocation of the privilege to participate in activities for the rest of the student's high school career. A second offense is a suspension from activities for 45 days and the third offense is suspension for one calendar year, also from activities. For a first offense, five days are forgiven if students complete an ASAA class offered online.
A second set of district rules applies to all students. On campus or at sanctioned off-campus events such as field trips, the school district can enforce prohibitions against tobacco, alcohol and drug use, including possession and use. Drugs include unauthorized prescription drugs, marijuana, inhalants, stimulants and imitation and synthetic drugs. The penalties for possessing or using tobacco, alcohol and drugs on campus range from suspension from school for up to 45 days or expulsion for more serious or repeat offenses.
A student athlete proven to violate on-campus tobacco, alcohol and drug rules also can be penalized for violating the ASAA-KPSAA TAD rules. One student athlete who recently violated both policies served the suspensions concurrently, Gee said.
Tobacco use also is subject to suspension, and since it's illegal for someone under 19 to possess tobacco, will be referred to police, according to district policy.
Compared to other schools, the total violations for first, second, third and multiple ASAA TAD violations have generally increased (see Table 3).
|Table 3: TAD violations by school and year|
For enforcement on-campus and at school-related activities, the numbers for suspension and expulsion for possession or being under the influence of alcohol show a different picture (See Table 4).
|Table 4: Suspensions or expulsions for on-campus alcohol possession or use per year and school|
Whether enforcing student activities covered under ASAA and KPSAA rules or on-campus events, the goal is the same, Erkeneff said.
"The school district is committed to a safe learning environment on-campus and at school-sanctioned events," she said. "The school board and administration recognize the need to provide students who violate school policy the support and opportunity to learn to make better choices."
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.