A disservice to community, school, and students


It is not possible for a reasonable person to understand in relative terms the philosophy behind the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s administrative reaction to two youngsters who have misbehaved.

As The Times has reported, one of the two has been punished too severely and even callously, when one considers the real educational needs of a high school sophomore. The other, for whom there has been no administrative intervention at all, despite his having been charged with three serious felonies now awaiting disposition, continues to play on a sports team representing the school and, by extension, the community. The school professes to await the disposition of the charges against the student before considering what might be done.

In the first instance a high school hockey player, away at an off-Island tournament, used marijuana and, when confronted, admitted that he did so. He was suspended from school altogether for six months, and the school made no effort to extend educational or substance abuse counseling to the student during this punishment period. Indeed, a psychologist asked by the school to review the matter, describes the punishment as “really extreme.”

In the second, a high school basketball player continues to enjoy the privilege of membership on the varsity basketball team, with no administrative intervention to enforce a standard that ought to be uncompromising, or to extend counseling support to the youngster.

The defense of their decisions, offered by school principal Stephen Nixon and school superintendent James Weiss, is inadequate in that it falls back on school policies, which reveal themselves as wholly unsuited to the real-life situations, or on broader school affiliations whose standards of behavior do not meet requirements that ought to be demanding and clear. The school policies and the requirements of affiliated statewide organizations, taken together, do a disservice to the high school student body and to parents and taxpayers, who ought to demand higher standards of administrative behavior as well as higher standards for students.

Regarding the six-month exclusion from school, state law will soon make a punishment of that duration unlawful and require attention to a disciplined student’s educational needs. The school’s suggestion that it may be rewriting its rules to conform with the new law — but that doing so is complicated and takes time — does not excuse the misguided nature of the six-month punishment now being appealed to the school superintendent. The response ought to have been, yes, we think we made a mistake here, we’re going to fix it and then reform our policies in a wholesale way as quickly as possible.

Regarding the basketball player, for the school leaders to fail to recognize that they have allowed themselves and the school to appear to be sponsoring as a student body representative a young man whose behavior cannot be defended is a dreadful misstep.Regional high school committee members too must understand that this administrative folly and confusion occurs on their watch and in their name. It harms the school’s good name, diminishes the students who are not involved in such activities, and suggests a misunderstanding of the educational obligation incumbent on the committee members, the teachers, and the school administrators.