The Tonawanda City School Board should proceed with caution in revising disciplinary procedures for alcohol and drug use, said City Court Judge Joseph J. Cassata.
During a two-hour discussion at Thursday night's board meeting, Judge Cassata told trustees they should make certain the penalty is commensurate with the act. "Sometimes when we're too restrictive the innocent suffers with the guilty," he said.
Trustees agreed with the judge's emphasis on "due process," but said they favor a "zero tolerance" policy that metes out two levels of punishment. The penalty would depend on whether the student receives a summons that was deserved or the result of his presence at an event.
Tonawanda Police Chief Mark Winters said that when officers enter a dwelling where underage drinking is taking place they issue a summons to all young persons present. He said it may later be determined that some of the individuals were merely spectators.
Winters said later that there have been several parties in the last few weeks where police have issued such summonses to Tonawanda high schools students.
"It is definitely a problem, and if we don't nip it in the bud, we're doing a disservice to children," said Trustee Jackie Smilinich. And board member William W. Watson said he likes the idea of zero tolerance because students will have to "step away from the temptation."
Some board members said students involved in extracurricular activities should be penalized in the same way as athletes, although Trustee Dennis Atkinson asked, "What is the advantage of suspending someone from Spanish Club?"
The first alcohol offense for athletes is a two-game suspension, although that could change when the policy is revised. Athletic director Larry Badgley said the two-game suspension is not equitable because it amounts to 25 percent of the season for football players and 10 percent for basketball players.
Cassata and Winters attended the meeting at the board's invitation. Trustees are expected to continue the policy discussion at future meetings and will also seek the advice of School Attorney Bernard B. Freedman.
In another matter, the board learned that a proposed change in measurement of the one-mile limit for busing students to Highland Elementary School would add four students to the 33 that are now on the 48-seat bus. However, the adjustment would mean three others now on the bus would not be able to ride.
Some Highland parents said all 7 children should be accommodated because the bus is not filled to capacity, but board members said that would involve changing the one-mile guideline instead of the way the guideline is measured. C. Douglas Whelan, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said a change in the guideline would have to be made on a districtwide basis, and existing buses would have to be used so as not to increase costs. In response to questions from the audience, trustees said they will decide the matter by Dec. 1.
The Highland information was part of a transportation study undertaken after parents at both Highland and Riverview schools complained that some children were denied bus service while others on the same street could ride to school.
At last week's meeting, the board agreed to bus three additional pupils to Riverview after making changes in the way the district measures the one-mile limit. However, no students already riding the bus were denied service.