AUGUSTA —The Board of Education approved a drug and alcohol policy that some have criticized because its provisions call for suspension and expulsion from school in some cases.

Board members unanimously approved the new Drug and Alcohol Use by Students policy, which states school principals may suspend and/or recommend expulsion of students who violate the policy.

Parents, substance abuse experts and some school board members have previously criticized the proposal, and related substance abuse proposals, saying students caught with cigarettes, booze or drugs should be counseled and disciplined, but that discipline should take place in school. They said suspending students with substance abuse problems could make their problems worse, not better, by forcing them out of the school environment.

Jennifer Day, Ward 1 board member, acknowledged those concerns and said questions raised during that debate prompted her to look more closely at how school officials handle students with substance abuse problems. She said once she did, she was satisfied that school administrators have the best interests of children in mind, follow established procedures that do not consider suspending students from school as the first option, and often collaborate with outside agencies to help students get the help they need.

School officials were urged, as part of discussion of a different, but related, policy on tobacco use in schools Wednesday, to keep students engaged in school, in sports and in other extracurricular activities, rather than suspend them for up to a year.

Resident Mark Walker noted the tobacco policy refers to other school policies, which say a student could be suspended for up to a year from after-school activities, which he advised against. Instead, he said, such students should be allowed to continue in school and in after-school activities, giving students incentive to follow the rules.

“I just hope everyone considers there are other policies that will disengage a child (from sports and other school activities) for over a year” for a violation of tobacco rules, Walker said. “Those are things that keep students alive, keep that child going. It’s keeping them with consequences that keeps them on the right path. My biggest concern is keep all kids involved because they need help.”

School administrators say suspension is not the first option, nor even a commonly used option, when students are caught violating substance abuse rules on school grounds. But it is a tool they need in case students don’t comply with the rules and other discipline is not effective, they said. They also noted the policy states students “may” be suspended for violations, not that they “shall” be suspended, giving administrators leeway in handling individual problems.

The drug and alcohol policy approved Wednesday prohibits students from distributing, possessing or being under the influence of any alcoholic beverage; and from manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, using or being under the influence of any narcotic or hallucinogenic drug, amphetamine, barbiturate, marijuana, anabolic steroid or other controlled substances, as well as any “look-alike substance or any substance that is represented to be a controlled substance.”

It also prohibits students from wearing clothing or accessories advertising or promoting drugs, tobacco products or alcohol.

The policy states, in part, “In order to promote the safety, health and well-being of students, the board endorses a three-pronged approach to address the issue of drug, tobacco products and alcohol use; prevention/education; intervention and discipline.”

Board members held first readings — two readings are required for passage — on two policies related to the drug and alcohol policy they approved: one on tobacco use and possession and one on tobacco use and possession administrative procedure.

Last month a school board committee agreed to propose altering Augusta schools’ tobacco rules to make a program of education, counseling and an alternative to suspension the first options over suspension from school for students caught using or possessing tobacco, though suspension from school remains as an option in the policy discussed by board members Wednesday.

The administrative procedure now states that students caught using or possessing tobacco in school buildings or on school grounds or during school-sponsored events will receive up to three days of suspension from school for the first offense.

The proposed new procedure states that a student caught using or possessing tobacco would receive education about the hazards of smoking, at least one session of substance abuse counseling, and two days in an alternative-to-suspension program offered through the Augusta Boys & Girls Club for Teens or, if they refuse those options, they “may” receive up to three days suspension.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj