A sequence of events in Massachusetts last week began like this: Erin Cox, 17, the volleyball team captain at North Andover High School, got a call from one of her friends, who was drunk at a teenage drinking party and couldn’t drive herself home.
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Ms Cox, completely sober, immediately drove over to the party, plunged through reckless and drunk teenagers, and pulled her friend out of the party. She had planned to put the friend in her car and drive her home, but four different police departments got to the house at the same time she did.
Police told Ms Cox, along with more than a dozen other teens, that they’d be summoned to court for underage drinking. Ms Cox wasn’t drunk but was among the teenagers who were to be summoned. Twelve other teens were actually arrested for underage drinking.
None of the reports mention any charges filed against Ms Cox, and one police officer even wrote a note to her mom that vouched for her sobriety. Those are the facts in this case, and they are undisputed. Now for the funny business, and for that, we have to bring in North Andover High School.
In addition to being a captain of the team, she’s a two-year All-Conference player and collected 51 assists in two games a few weeks back against Methuen and Haverhill high schools. She has been instrumental in her team’s seven-game winning streak. Her coach, Veronica Schaefer, told the Globe she increases “her teammates’ mental game and (challenges) them to step up their attack speed and try new things.”
This kind of leadership is something we usually admire in teenagers, on the court and in the everyday life of being a teenager.
“I felt like going to get her was the right thing to do,” the Boston Herald quoted Ms Cox as saying, “saving her from getting in the car when she was intoxicated and hurt herself or getting in the car with someone else who was drinking. I’d give her a ride home.”
But when a zero-tolerance rule is in effect, that includes zero tolerance for being at a party where underage drinking is taking place.
Geoffrey Bok, the school’s attorney, said Friday that once police became involved, the school had little choice but to sit Ms Cox on the bench. Her parents filed a lawsuit to try to stop the punishment, but the judge who was hearing her case threw out the lawsuit, saying the court didn’t have jurisdiction to pass judgment on a suspension for five volleyball games and a determination that a student could no longer serve as captain.
I think the judge was right in throwing out the lawsuit, since extracurricular decisions don’t deprive students of class time or any other right conferred upon them by the state.
However, teenage drinking is a real problem, and application of school discipline as it was done here will cause teens to abandon their friends who make a mistake every now and then. It could potentially promote injury to teens who should be protected in any way possible.
The school justified its punishment with police action and paid no attention to the facts. You can indict a ham sandwich, New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler was famously quoted as saying in The Bonfire of the Vanities, so police action should not be considered the final word, as it was here.
The arbitrary and capricious application of this rule should be corrected and an apology issued for the school’s ignorance of and disregard for the facts. School officials didn’t even pretend to care about the facts.