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Richmond School Board eases policy on first-time marijuana offenders
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Richmond School Board eases policy on first-time marijuana offenders

Board decides first-time offense should not lead to automatic expulsion

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A first-time drug offense no longer means automatic expulsion in Richmond Public Schools.

On a 7-1 vote Monday, the city’s School Board approved a new student code of conduct that includes a policy change that will give school principals and certain other administrators a level of discretion in dealing with students caught with drugs and alcohol.

“It really gives us an opportunity to help our kids,” said 9th District member Tichi L. Pinkney Eppes. “When kids are bringing marijuana into our schools, there must be an underlying reason. We can’t address all social ills, but this is an opportunity to offer help and support.”

The policy change is in line with a change to the Code of Virginia that goes into effect today that changes the way school systems can deal with drug and alcohol issues.

As the law stood through June, violators of the state’s zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy were recommended for expulsion no matter the circumstances. Under clarified guidelines, school districts have the option of setting lesser penalties.

Locally, the school boards in Henrico County and Richmond have now changed their policies, while Chesterfield and Hanover counties are sticking with what they have.

Chesterfield currently recommends expulsion for students caught with drugs, but allows for a 10-day suspension for students caught under the influence of marijuana or with drug paraphernalia.

In Hanover, the student code of conduct uses the state language that recommends expulsion but allows for some discretion.

The Henrico change is part of an update to the student code of conduct.

In Richmond, the change is specific to decreasing the number of students expelled for first-time drug offenses. A companion change increases the number of days a principal can suspend a student without administrative approval, from five to 10.

School administrators are currently reviewing several treatment and counseling options, including an existing program run by the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.

The lone vote against the change came from Glen H. Sturtevant Jr., of the 1st District.

“I think it sends the wrong message,” he said. “When we talk about helping the kids who break the rule, it’s easy to forget about the students who are in their desks trying to learn.”

On a night when the School Board was scheduled for its first governance training session in more than a year, the meeting began 22 minutes late. What was scheduled as a 35-minute meeting ran for more than an hour and included a lengthy discussion on whether or not three members could attend an academic conference next week in Portland, Ore.

The Board offered tentative approval to a plan to spend $4,500 to send Mamie L. Taylor, 5th District; Shonda M. Harris-Muhammed, 6th; and Tichi L. Pinkney Eppes, 9th.

Each member is allowed $1,100 a year in travel expenses. Superintendent Dana T. Bedden was asked to find the other $1,200.

If the three go, they’ll be out of travel funds until next July.

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