Students who violate the controlled substances policy in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District no longer face mandatory ten-week transfers to other schools.

The district board of education changed the 1989 policy Thursday, August 19th, after several parents from Malibu complained that the mandatory zero-tolerance policy for any offense was too harsh.

With new changes to the policy, school principals can now determine a set of punishments based on the nature of each student’s case, and whether the student committed a first or a second offense.

“Principals in this district raised concerns that the involuntary transfer provisions of the policy are disruptive to staff and damaging to students who may already be at-risk for school failure,” said school district superintendent John Deasy.

Some of those concerns included:

– the sudden unanticipated transfer of students does not provide time for the receiving school to prepare an equivalent academic program or become familiar with the history and needs of the students;

– academic disruptions caused by transferring students in the middle of a semester decrease the chances of student success;

n transferred students who use public or district transportation cannot stay after school for remedial or support programs; and

– parents of transferred students find it harder to establish a working relationship with a new set of teachers in another city.

PARENT COMPLAINTS — In the spring, eight Malibu High School students were caught under the influence of alcohol at a prom and forced to transfer to Santa Monica High School for the remainder of the school year.

Parents complained to the board of education in May that the students were first-time offenders with good grades and that forcing them to travel on the accident-prone Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to Santa Monica was too dangerous.

Since the offenses occurred late in the school year, those students would also have faced a situation where they would attend Santa Monica High School for a few weeks, take a summer vacation, finish the rest of the ten-week transfer and return to Malibu High School mid-semester.

Policy changes are retroactive, so the students involved in the Malibu incident now can start school Wednesday, September 8th, at Malibu High School.

“I look forward to proactive steps. We have a very good reactive policy, but students are still abusing substances without learning the consequences of addiction,” said board member Shane McLoud.

NEW POLICY — Students who possess or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or furnish drugs or alcohol to other students without intent to sell on first offense:

– shall be suspended for a maximum of five days;

– shall be placed on academic probation for ten weeks;

– must complete 24 hours of substance abuse counseling; and

– must complete 40 hours of community service.

School principals can force students to complete a Twelve Step addiction-counseling program if the student’s behavior requires more intervention.

If students do not complete the requirements by the last day of the semester, they will be transferred to another school in the district for the entire next semester.

Second offenses will result in a maximum five-day suspension and principals may recommend expulsion from the district.

The school district will keep intact mandatory punishments for students who sell drugs or alcohol or provide controlled substances free with intent to sell later.

Michael Matthews, assistant superintendent, said the California education code stipulates zero tolerance for students who sell drugs on campus or intend to sell.

Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez wanted students to serve their five-day suspensions in isolation on campus, but Matthews said the district does not currently have enough staff to provide adequate supervision.

“Somewhere along the line, we need to make sure students are on campus,” Leon-Vazquez said. “Maybe they are isolated. We need to look at what the cost is to do something like that.”

Deasy said he and his staff will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of providing in-house suspension and bring the issue back to the board of education at a later time.