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24/7 School Policy Scrapped, but Lawsuits Remain

Haddonfield no longer has a student-conduct policy outside of school.

The borough Board of Education last week officially repealed its so-called 24/7 student-conduct policy but a residue of unresolved lawsuits remain.

In July, the board suspended the policy of denying students arrested for alcohol or drug offenses the ability to participate in extracurricular activities. That was on the heels of a state Appellate Court ruling striking down a similar policy in the Ramapo Indian Hills school district because it violated state law.

The official repeal of the Haddonfield policy came last week after the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal for the case, BOE President Steve Weinstein said Wednesday.

But Matthew Wolf, a Cherry Hill attorney, said Wednesday the policy was never legal and nearly 90 students had their rights violated during the six years it was in effect.

"I offered to settle this suit for $1 in damages in 2009 if the board just repealed the policy," Wolf said. "They forced us to do three years of litigation."

Wolf said he originally worked pro bono, without a fee. But he said the board's hard line eventually led to him charge fees and seek higher monetary damages. He estimates fees and damages could exceed $600,000.

School officials have said they don't believe Wolf's case has merit and don't believe they will have to pay him or his plaintiffs. The school district's Joint Insurance Fund would pay damages if it loses the suits or settles. But Wolf said it would likely mean a substantial increase in premiums if that happens.

BOE officials could not be immediately reached about its JIF premiums.

Wolf also claims the BOE and the borough worked together to enforce the 24/7 policy. He said borough police had refused to offer station-house adjustments to teens for underage-drinking or minor drug offenses, as is the policy of the state attorney general. Once charged, students could be disciplined under the 24/7 policy.

Borough police and administration officials have denied station-house adjustments were not sometimes offered and said Wolf's claims have no merit.

Susan Hoch MD February 14, 2013 at 07:06 PM
I am not surprised that the B of E has reversed themselves on this policy. It seemed that it went against the trend of increasing rights for high school students. The question I have - is who is paying for this misguided attempt? Who will pay the legal fees the B of E may face and who will be responsible for any payouts for successful lawsuits. One thing is clear to me - the taxpayers of Haddonfield should not pay for this. This policy was an overreach by the B of E. Presumably they consulted a lawyer before they initiated the policy. If he told them it was legal, he was incorrect and I would hope that his legal malpractice would cover any costs going forward. I would also hope that the Board has insurance to cover any expenses resulting for lawsuits and legal costs and if not, perhaps the individual umbrella Insurance policies that I would assume many on the Board have might cover a mistake of this magnitude. The Commissioners also are at fault because they went along with this policy. Perhaps they also sought legal advice and in that case, their lawyer should also have legal malpractice insurance. But the citizens should not have to pay for the mistakes of their elected officials. Going forward, the question remains. What about students who abuse alcohol and drugs? If they violate any laws, then it is a police matter. Referral of the student with alcohol or drug issues for therapy and treatment should be mandatory.
Amy Shaw February 15, 2013 at 01:23 AM
Unfortunately, we as a school district and a boro are now experiencing the repercussions of this misguided policy. This was a bad idea from the start, and a clear abuse of power. The school district has no business trying to police what my kids do when they are not in school, on school property or at a school event. That is my job as a parent. The BOE's job is to run the schools. The policy was pushed through amid hysteria over several tragic events that had happened in Haddonfield just prior. Those who had dissenting opinions were drowned out by the will of pure emotion with little to no logic mixed in. I'm glad they this mistake has finally been reversed, but very disappointed that the BOE stood behind it for so long and refused to reconsider it.
Brian Kelly February 16, 2013 at 06:14 PM
As Haddonfield deals with the repercussions of the 24/7 policy it's important to learn from this mistake. Especially in dealing with tragic events common sense must rule the day. A 24/7 policy consists of a parent telling their kid "If you're caught drinking you can't participate in school activities" or whatever discipline they see fit. That so many people refused to recognize such a simple common sense rule leads me to believe there were other factors behind this policy. I'm sure they were well intentioned but very misguided. Not only must our elected officials make informed decisions, we as residents share that responsibility also. The days of residents being drowned out by voices with little or no logic in matters so vital to our town are over.
Johnston February 17, 2013 at 05:47 AM
I'm very concerned with the amount of time our administration spends on non educational concerns. It certainly is a problem that we have had terrible drug and alcohol abuses by minors in Haddonfield.... there is a legal system in place to handle these situations. YET, Weinstein once again set out on "these missions" where our already stretched thin school budget ends up spending more time and money on subjects they are not supposed to be charged with. I feel under Weinstein,and yes--- thank him for his time and efforts and grief in dealing with the public, however, he has certainly taken the incorrect direction in many occasions... I'm a bit concerned with his political dealings as well. This is no secret of course that he is connected to the corruption of the Norcross machine... I don't think Haddonfield needs this perception.
Bill Tourtellotte February 17, 2013 at 02:00 PM
The 24/7 policy has been shelved at the appropriate time after the legal limitations became clear based upon recently emerging legal information. I and others applaud the BOE and Commissioners for having had the courage to step up and take a stand against the dangerous and misguided culture of acceptance that had emerged in Haddonfield that allowed widespread alcohol and substance abuse to go unchecked. Something bold had to be done and the 24/7 policy had been implemented successfully elsewhere. It is easy for people to step in and play Monday morning quarterback and relentlessly criticize the actions of our fellow neighbors who serve us selflessly on these boards and commissions. But these folks took a stand against what was largely an overly permissive culture regarding what is in fact a life and death issue. Ask some educators and veterans on the municipal alliance and I think you will hear that the policy has paid dividends in putting a dent in this destructive culture where intoxication had been glamorized and unwittingly encouraged to our vulnerable teens here.
Bill Tourtellotte February 17, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Additionally, my finding is that like with most bold complaints about public policy or about the actions of our neighbors who serve us, most of these folks do so without good or complete information. For example, many years ago upon hearing of the initial 24/7 proposal, I had many of the same concerns. But the more I learned and listened, the more inclined I was to reverse my initial position. For one very basic point, most people have the wrong idea about the policy intent and strategy. It is anything but punitive. It is about intervention. If folks would actually read the policy, they will see that kids initially have very little or nothing in the way consequences to their actions. What is required is counseling and awareness activities intended to encourage understanding of the destructive behavior. My prediction is that the folks who came out with the criticisms above have not even read the actual policy let alone spoken with members of our boards and commissions personally let alone ever served on any community group charged with addressing these dangerous issues. Public debate is a good thing and I encourage it. But let's be careful about letting our passion and insulation behind our private keyboards drive us to unfair indictments of the selfless and tireless thoughtful actions of our fellow residents who serve.
Steve Ahrens February 17, 2013 at 03:03 PM
It was not just a misguided decision to implement the 24/7 policy, it was just plain stupid. The school system cannot and should not replace parental authority. The fact that many parents do not assert that authority in a way many of us think they should is regrettable, but not something the school system should override. And who will pay? Of course we, the taxpayers.
Brian Kelly February 17, 2013 at 03:23 PM
As well intentioned as this program might have been, the end result tells you what you need to know. Hindsight always makes it easier to criticize something but this was an issue of simple common sense. Kids are going to party. When they do it they don't think they're to get caught. If they did they wouldn't party. The only 24/7 policy that works involves parents setting boundaries. When a policy is implemented that has poor consequences it has to be acknowledged. It doesn't mean the folks implementing it aren't good people, it means they made the wrong decision...in this situation one that has big consequences for the town. Admit the poor decision, learn from it and move on. I remember an old friend, Tom Nichols, telling me a story about legendary HMHS coach Russ Spicer. One day Coach Spicer took a look at Tom, told him his hair was too long to play on his team.. Since they had a game that afternoon and Tom didn't have time to get a haircut Coach Spicer sat him down in the gym, gave him a haircut and he played that afternoon. That was Coach Spicer's 24/7 policy. It included team guidelines more serious than haircuts. Different times... If a student breaks the law it's up to parents to decide the discipline. This is what the parents of students not involved in extracurricular activities have to do. I agree with Bill that activities are needed to give students other outlets, and counseling should available to students dealing with overwhelming problems.
Steve Ahrens February 17, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Brian, I agree with all your points, except for the one that activities are needed to give students other outlets. There are plenty of available activities. In fact, I think a case can be made that some parents push their children into too many activities.
Susan Hoch MD February 17, 2013 at 03:44 PM
Bill, over the last twenty years, the law has increased the rights of high school students to those adults have - to publish what they want, to wear their hair as they want, to wear tee shirts with potentially offensive messages. When I went to high school, girls had to wear their skirts a certain length and could not wear pants. Times have changed. Civil rights have been extended to high school students. Knowing this, it was obvious that the 24/7 policy went against that trend and was likely illegal. I went to a meeting at the Middle School about this and spoke to Tish but it was apparent that this was a done deal between the B of E and the Commissioners. I understand why the B of E felt they had to do something with the epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse in the kids and the poor parenting that enabled this behavior. I understand that with the athletic culture in this town, they felt that preventing kids from participation in afterschool sports would be a serious punishment for those kids. But the role of the B of E is education, not enforcing laws on underage alcohol use and use of illegal drugs. That should be up to the police department. The B of E should stick to education - just see their record on building and grounds maintenance. Leave enforcement of alcohol and illegal drug use laws to the police and make sure that the kids get into programs to address their substance abuse. And don't make the taxpayers pay for this mistaken and misguided judgement by the B of E.
Susan Hoch MD February 17, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Steve, I have to agree that in many of the cases, it is the helicopter parents getting vicarious gratification from their kids activities. I think what the kids need in this town is a teen community center where they could just hang out safely. Although I guess they wouldn't think it was cool enough and they couldn't drink there.
PJ February 17, 2013 at 03:56 PM
We are all looking forward to see what kind of bold actions Weinstein takes as general coun$el for Rowan. Lord knows there is no culture of intoxication there . . .
Brian Kelly February 17, 2013 at 07:23 PM
Steve, I know exactly what you mean. When I talk about activities, I'm thinking about some of the things when I went to school in the 70's. We had "dances" organized by the students with live bands that played pretty good music. I remember one with low lights and a mirror ball in the gym. It appealed to all kinds of students 9 thru 12. Back then I thought it was pretty groovy! The price was the use of the gym. I remember the Open Door at one of the churches uptown. Unstructured. Music, ping pong, all kinds of teens. Inexpensive and not dictated by what some parents thought teens should be doing. That the students had a say in the activities made it different. I just walked by Clement St. They spent a lot of money fixing it up along with Mechanic St. One of the Victorian 10 foot posts was torn out of the sidewalk while another was bent from its mooring. This is starting to get ridiculous.

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