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Parents upset over suspensions

One month after 23 athletes at Carbondale High School were suspended from games for violating the district’s alcohol policy, the crime and punishment are still fueling fierce debate.

About 12 parents protested the severity of the punishments and demanded that the school’s policy be rewritten during a Roaring Fork School District Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.

But school board president Robin Garvik and other members said they are receiving significantly more comments in support of the policy and the consequences it spells out for kids who get caught drinking.

“The tide has definitely swayed in the other direction,” said Garvik. “These people who are calling me don’t have a problem with the policy or the consequences.”

She said the issue has sparked one of the hottest debates within the school district in recent years – as punishments regarding athletes often do. She said it is too bad that academics and other school issues don’t generate as much attention.

The number of kids involved and the timing of the suspensions right before the girls and boys basketball playoffs “catapulted” the issue to a point “where it could tear the community apart,” Garvik said. Now, however, she believes the majority of people support the policy.

The kids were caught at a party Feb. 10. They were suspended for three to five games.

Some parents are upset because athletes who were at the party but weren’t drinking received the same penalty as those imbibing.

At an emotionally charged appearance before the school board, Glen Harris, a Carbondale parent, said the policy has flaws that need to be corrected. The policy critics, he said, shouldn’t be labeled as parents who condone drinking. Instead, they simply want a policy that fits the violation.

Harris objected to the suspensions carrying over to the next school year. He also suggested it was unfair for students to be penalized if they were at a party but not drinking.

Other speakers agreed that five-game suspensions were too harsh and should be reduced. Pleas were made to make the situation a learning experience rather than one that would make the students bitter.

Harris and others demanded that the school board and Superintendent Fred Wall meet with them to work on their concerns.

“We really feel like we’ve been talking to deaf ears,” Harris said.

But Garvik said the school board has established numerous ways for district residents to comment on the policy. They can submit letters to the superintendent’s office, e-mail school board members and wait for the board’s formal review of the district-wide alcohol policy this summer.

Garvik said the board decided it will collect input until the end of May. Then the policy will be reviewed and possibly altered in a series of three public readings that will likely be held over the summer.

She said she believes the policy could use some revisions, although not in major ways. For example, people on both sides of the issue have expressed support for introducing an educational element to the punishment.

One proposed alteration is to give students the option of attending an alcohol awareness class in exchange for a reduction of their suspension, Garvik noted. The policy may also be expanded to affect kids who aren’t in athletics.

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