When I first saw this story about disicplinary procedures leading to a HS suicide at the Post on-line, I really just assumed it was sensationalist journalism, but I started reading out of curiosity. Here’s the lede:
Nick Stuban was all about football, a quick-footed linebacker at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County who did well in the classroom, too: four As, two Bs and a C for first quarter. His history teacher described the 15-year-old as a “model student,” and his German teacher was impressed by his enthusiasm for language. His attendance record was nearly perfect.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” his father recalls Nick saying.
Over the next 11 weeks, his mistake unraveled much of what Nick held close – his life at school, his sense of identity, his connection to the second family he’d found in his football team. Nick’s emotional descent was steeper than anyone imagined, and its painful finality brought light to a discipline system that many Fairfax families call too lengthy, too rigid and too hostile.
Nick took his life Jan. 20, the second student in two years to die of a suicide amid the fallout of a disciplinary infraction in Fairfax.
By the time I was done reading the story, I was outraged and just how willfully stupid my own former K-12 school system is about their drug policies. In this particular case, a HS student was expelled from school for 7 weeks for a first offense in which he purchased a questionable, but legal drug, JWH-018, a synthetic marijuana-type herb. Apparently,the average suspension in such matters is 20 days, but can be much longer. Just what does it accomplish by keeping a student– especially one with no record of further infractions– out of school for such a long time. Well, in this case, it’s clearly a lot of bad:
In Nick’s case, the suspension dragged on for seven weeks, and then it was winter break. He was banned from Woodson and other school system property during that period – no weekly Boy Scout meetings, no sports events, no driver’s education sessions, all held on school grounds.
He felt stigmatized and grew isolated, his parents say, as the teen rumor mill produced exaggerated versions of why he’d been suspended. Some friendships slipped away. His sense of accumulating unfairness rose.
Apparently, Nick’s crime was treated as if he were a drug dealer and much more harshly than if he were at school high on cocaine. I just hate that the adults in charge of our children’s future can be so so stupid. How on earth could it possibly be a good thing to separate a kid who is clearly at risk from all aspects of social stability they may know?
I’m no big fan of kids dealing drugs in High Schools, and surely schools need to discipline such cases, but what goes on in Fairfax County is an affront to common sense, human decency, and intelligent public policy. Just one more piece of evidence that the war on drugs in this country does more harm than good.