Making Policy a Priority

A closer look at the Blue Valley Substance Agreement and its origins

Mikaela Schmitt and Jacob Braun

Minors in possession. Breathalyzers. Marijuana. Cigarettes.  Alcohol. Vaping. The Blue Valley Substance Abuse agreement serves as one method to encourage kids to say no to these illegal activities.

Adopted for all Blue Valley Schools in 2001, this policy outlines the requirements of students involved in athletics and activities to abstain from participating in illegal behaviors involving alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, inhalants or any illegal drugs. Students involved in sports and activities are held to this higher standard at all times during their high school career and are subject to appropriate punishment as outlined if the contract is broken.

“Participation in activities as defined by Blue Valley Unified School District No. 229 is a privilege,” states the Athletics and Activities Substance Abuse Guidelines. “This privilege is available to a student for as long as the student complies with District policies and guidelines, Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) policies (where applicable) and coach/sponsor rules.”

An offense, defined as the use, possession, disbursement or being under the influence of any substance, will result in numerous consequences including suspension from participation in activities for not more than 50% of one full season for an initial offence. A second offense includes suspension for not more than one full season, and a third results in suspension for a minimum of 365 consecutive days. Offenses are cumulative throughout a student’s entire high school activity career.

Coaches and/or sponsors may also implement stricter policies or requirements, given that students and parents are made aware of the policies before joining the activity. However, according to assistant principal and activities director Bryan Brutto, the purpose of the policy is not to simply punish students.

“I look at what is meaningful and what will have an impact on the student… not just simply having the consequence part, but thinking about how is it you are going to rehabilitate the student as well,” Brutto said. “Enough time to let some of those consequences take place, but to know that a student has learned and is able to grow from there.”

Students are required to sign the form at the beginning of their freshman year when first joining a sport or activity. Certain activities or sports may have students sign it at the beginning season or school year as a reminder of their commitment. Students are held accountable for that signature for the rest of their time at BV West. 

“The thought behind that [24/7, 365 policy]… is that there’s never really a time that it’s okay to do the things that this punishes you for doing,” assistant principal and athletic director Cindy Roach said. “So if you don’t have a 24/7 365 [policy], you’re kind of covertly saying it’s okay to do these things in June, July and August, just not during school.”

Despite common perceptions, the policy did not begin as a method to regulate and punish student behavior. The policy was suggested by a student on the Student’s District Activities Committee as a way to avoid peer pressure. 

“The students that were involved with this committee said they needed something else to help them say no,” Brutto said. “To help them get out of that sticky situation with their buddies that are pressuring them to go to a party. This was not the BV administration going we gotta have some way to bust these kids. Students said we want this.”

Every student participating in an activity or sport in the Blue Valley district are held to the same standards. One unified policy allows administration to communicate and determine consistent punishment for similar situations, with the input of BV West sponsors and administration, and other Blue Valley District sponsors and administration.

“A lot of collaboration goes into that, with the sponsors and other activities directors within the district,” Brutto said. “That’s really helpful to me that it’s not just a decision made on an island without any input at all.”

Due to varied length of different seasons, the athletic department at BV West has determined a solution to ensure fairly equal punishment for each situation. If a player’s first offense is “typical”, as determined by Roach, then they will sit out 30% of their season.

“That way if I have a soccer player and cheerleader get caught at the same time or the same situation it’s not something for one and something else for the other,” Roach said.

This solution ensures no possibility of favoritism by coaches.

“Unfair treatment based on who’s a ‘star athlete’ seems to be too prevalent in the world we live in,” junior Robert Viazzoli said. “Just because somebody is a good athlete doesn’t mean they should be able to avoid consequences that anybody else receives.”

For those involved in multiple sports, if caught committing an offense, the consequences will apply to the sport that is next on the calendar. For example, if a student, who participates in basketball and track, is caught breaking the contract in the fall, the repercussions would be put into effect during their basketball season.

Yet, the Substance Abuse agreement is not just for athletics. The same rules apply to all of the numerous activities at BV West.

Activities pose numerous unique issues regarding the policy, due to the definition of a “season” for activities and co-curricular grade impacts. An activity is defined as a KSHSAA activity or an extracurricular event with extra pay for sponsors. While the policy states that activity sponsors will determine and communicate the meaning of a “season,” the line is still quite difficult to determine.

Administration and sponsors may agree upon a period of time similar to that of a sports season to suspend involvement, or they may consider rescinding a leadership position. In co-curricular activities, they will remain in the class, however they may be graded differently or given alternative assignments due to suspension from specific activities.

“I think sometimes at the end of the day to totally cut a student off and tell them to go away is one of the worst things you can do,” Brutto said.

According to the Blue Valley Parent Handbook, receiving an offense on school grounds or at a district or school sponsored activity may result in additional punishment, including up to a 10 day suspension. School Resource Officers (SROs) or security guards may breathalyze a student under reasonable suspicion at a school event. All Blue Valley employees are mandated reporters, so if an issue arises, they must contact the authorities.

“I can act differently than what a police officer can,” Brutto said. “I can act on reasonable suspicion, which might be a tip, I watch you stumble down the hall, I smell alcohol. Police officers act on reasonable cause. So if there’s a search, I’m worried/concerned about a student I can do an investigation and work with our school nurse, who’s also trained to do an evaluation. The second I know there’s alcohol or drugs involved, it becomes a legal investigation.”

While directly being caught with an offense is one way, there are other ways for administration to learn about a student and how they handled a situation. Deemed as one of the most important parts of the contract, self-reporting is strongly encouraged by administration. 

“I personally think that the punishments are reasonable,” Viazzoli said. “In all honesty, the punishments can be seen as an ‘easy way out’ and doesn’t address the real problem of students making dumb decisions.”

The recognition of a mistake and honesty are highly valued, and punishment will be reduced for the individual.

“That’s really what I’m after,” Brutto said. “I want you to own the mistake. I could give you consequences till next year, but… you [need to] own it and say ‘I messed up.’”

There is a fine line between committing an offense and simply being present where illegal behaviors are taking place, but not participating. If the clear directive is that a student should not be present, then administration encourages students to self report.

“No, it’s not against the law to be at a party and not drink, but the police, if they bust a party where there’s alcohol, everybody there is getting an MIP,” Roach said. “They’re not going to pick and choose who gets an MIP.”

The risk of a getting a misdemeanor is enough to encourage many to abstain from illegal activities. However, the policy is another reasons students can say “no” to peer pressure.

“I think what they should do is throw administration, throw this policy under the bus,” Brutto said. “This is one of the huge reasons we adopted this.”

At the end of the day, the student has the ultimate choice of whether or not to get involved with illegal substances. They are the ones solely responsible for their actions and are left to determine how a simple choice today can significantly affect their future and opportunities.

“We talk about what you have to lose if you get in trouble… what does that mean for you down the road,” Roach said. “I can give kids a myriad of examples where college coaches have withdrawn their interest in a high school athlete because of their involvement with drugs or alcohol. So that’s what we warn them about: what they have to lose.”