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Any student, especially a high school student applying for college, knows that school is a priority. It takes over most of one’s day sitting in class, then creeps its way into “free time” when homework and applications start piling up.

As negative as it sounds, school takes over real life. One would hope that there would be some part of high school, some time that is truly free, that is not ruled by assignments and policies.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for high school administrators to become involved in their students’ personal lives beyond academic, athletic and extracurricular activities. Allow me to explain what I mean.

Primarily, I refer to the notion that due to restraints of time, students have no choice but to essentially be “in school” almost 24 hours a day. Homework takes priority over sleep and extracurriculars that were once positive experiences become an added stress. Many high schools require students to perform a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate.
These things are important and beneficial to students, but I recognize that these activities also cut into valuable time that students could be spending on more relaxing endeavors. But I digress.
To put it lightly, high schools have become involved in their students’ personal lives in terms of the way they choose to spend their weekends.

A few weeks ago, a student at North Andover High School in Massachusetts was suspended from playing on her volleyball team and demoted from her position as captain. Did she misbehave at school or on the court? A simple, but resounding, “no” is the answer.

This punishment was decided upon after she was found at a party where alcohol was served to underage students. However, Erin Cox was there to be a sober ride home for a friend who actually had been drinking. So why was she punished by the school at all, let alone taken away the privilege of playing volleyball? Erin’s school adheres to a zero tolerance policy in which even a sober student found in the presence of underage alcohol consumption is subject to being punished.

I cannot help but feel that in making this the policy schools send their students the wrong message: that even students who stay sober surrounded by peers drinking should be equally punished and that they should not keep their friends who do drink safe.

High schools are in denial. Do they really expect one hundred percent of their students to abstain from consuming alcohol? This is an unrealistic goal. In any high school, wherever you are, students are going to drink, whether out of their own curiosity or peer pressure. As a caveat, I will say that I do not support underage drinking, but I am not so naïve as to believe that it doesn’t happen.

The fact that students often need to drive home makes it dangerous, besides the fact that they are legally too young. Policies of zero tolerance fail to teach students the importance of consuming alcohol in a safe amount and environment. The student from North Andover did the right thing, the safe thing, for her friend. Yet in doing what was perhaps the best decision at the time, she was punished.

Now back to the point that high schools are becoming too involved in their students’ lives. It often happens that these parties are nowhere near school premises or during time that students should be in school. The only commonality between the school and the parties is the group of people who attend them. As aforementioned, school takes up a lot of teenagers’ lives, but since when has school become a 24/7 auditing service to check up on their students? Frankly, it is not their job to be involved in what students do outside of school unless it affects their schoolwork or attendance.
School administrators have become overbearing “helicopter” parents. It would be impossible for them to control or censor every aspect of each and every student’s life, but the zero tolerance policy gives the impression that that is their goal. If schools really want to take on the role of a parent, why not take on the role of a good parent, a parent who teaches children to practice good decision-making skills and moral judgment?

Health and wellness classes teach these skills in schools. If these classes truly act as preventative measures, then does the school not trust that they are effective? More than this even, we must consider the fact that it isn’t school administrators going in and breaking up parties where alcohol is served. It is the police that go in, take names, and reporting them to the school.

It makes me sad that there is so little trust in high school students, especially those who have no reason to be distrusted. In terms of a solution I have no exact plan, but I do know that punishing students for keeping their peers safe is not the answer. It is not a question of teen drinking, it is a question of how involved should administrators really be in their students’ lives. There has to be a better way.

Mary McDermott is a junior English major from Westborough, Mass. She can be reached at mmcderm5@villanova.edu.

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