, Gloucester, MA

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October 17, 2013

Editorial: Another setback for common sense

A senior athlete at North Andover High School may be heartbroken about the punishment handed out to her by school officials. But she can take comfort in the knowledge that she did the right thing.

And while Erin Cox made an informed, intelligent decision to look after the welfare of a friend, the adults running the school system opted for the coward’s way out, falling back on a “policy” that insulates them from having to exercise critical judgment — or even use a smattering of common sense.

A few weeks ago, Cox received a telephone call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Rather than let someone risk driving drunk, Cox drove to the party to pick up her friend.

North Andover police, however, had also been summoned to the party, where they arrested several students for underage possession of alcohol.

Police cleared Cox of drinking or being in possession of alcohol, according to various reports. But school officials still punished the honor student and star volleyball player, and demoted Cox from her post as captain of the volleyball team, suspending her from playing for five games.

Yes, the school — like so many others in this area — has a strict policy against drugs and alcohol. According to the high school’s student handbook, those participating in athletics shall not “use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol.”

Yet it’s difficult to see from the story how Cox violated this policy.

This kind of “zero tolerance” thinking is a crutch used by school officials, who would rather not have to make the difficult decisions that usually come with positions of authority. But such decisions require actual good judgment. Rather than have to defend their judgments, how much easier it is to point at a handbook and declare “we have a policy.”

The Cox family has hired a lawyer but a district court judge already has ruled he has no jurisdiction in such matters.

Let’s just chalk up another major setback for common sense.

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