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School Suspends Volleyball Captain for Driving Drunk Friend Home

A volleyball captain at a Massachusetts high school recently learned a difficult lesson about zero-tolerance policies.

Earlier this month, North Andover High School stripped 17-year-old Erin Cox of her captaincy and suspended her for five games. Her offense? Picking up a drunk friend at a party and driving her home, according to the Boston Herald.  

"I wasn't drinking," Erin said to the Herald. "And I felt like going to get her was the right thing to do. 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."

Upon finding her friend at the party, police arrived, arrested 12 partygoers for underage drinking, and told another 15 youths that they'd be summoned to court for drinking.

Despite a police officer vouching for her sobriety in writing, Cox was one of those 15 summoned to court. Once that happened, the school acted accordingly.

The high school's student handbook specifies that "from the earliest fall practice date to the conclusion of the academic year or final athletic event (whichever is latest), all student-athletes must not "use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol; any tobacco product; marijuana; steroids; or any controlled substance." Once the school's principal confirms a violation of this policy, following "an opportunity for the student to be heard," the student loses eligibility for 40 percent of the season.

Additionally, per the handbook, "a captain who is disciplined or involved in any incident involving an alcohol/drugs (controlled substance) violation at ANY TIME, including Summer Vacation," will lose his/her captaincy in addition to any other consequences."

Long story short: The handbook is pretty cut-and-dry here. By virtue of Cox being summoned to court for drinking (even though she didn't consume alcohol that evening), the school had little choice, based on the way their policy is currently written, to strip her of her captaincy.

Cox's mother, Eleanor, filed a lawsuit against the school to stop the suspension, but a court ruled on Friday that it had no jurisdiction in the matter.

"The school is really trying to take a very serious and principled stand regarding alcohol," said Geoffrey Bok, who represented the school in court, per the Herald. "And we all get that. Teen drinking is a serious problem."

Did the school go too far with its "serious and principled stand regarding alcohol" in this specific instance? That's up for debate.

One thing is clear, though: If a school wants latitude in handing out discipline, zero-tolerance policies aren't the way to go. (For more on zero-tolerance policies and student discipline, check out our Rules for Engagement blog.)

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