DHS athlete policies don't always deter bad behavior
When Darien High School officials designed policies determining acceptable behavior for student athletes, the intent wasn't to make a cut and dried list of what was OK and what wasn't, so much as it was a means of giving athletes a reason not to engage in certain behaviors.
DHS Athletic Director John Keleher said when the school created the current policy, the point was to provide an incentive to keep students away from controlled substances. More recently, the policy was extended to cover all students who participate in extra-curricular activities.
"Some of our coaches felt it was not fair to smack just athletes with these rules, so we expanded it," Keleher said. "Other than that, the only big difference between our policies and policies at other schools is the fact that we included a section about being in the presence of drugs or alcohol."
That specific section is important because it isn't always easy to determine whether or not a student has been drinking at a party, Keleher said.
While the policy is written to prohibit students from being in the vicinity of drugs or alcohol, officials included a good samaritan rule because they want students to take action if another student needs medical attention because they consumed too much alcohol or other substance, Keleher said.
"There was a party in New York where a kid drank too much and passed out and he ended up dying because the cops showed up and all the kids ran away without doing anything," he said. "We want to encourage everyone to try to do something if they see someone in trouble."
The policies expectations vary when it comes to different types of conduct, but one of the biggest hurdles when crafting a policy is whether it goes too far and determining the appropriate disciplinary action.
"It's not always black and white when it comes to disciplinary action and it's very, very difficult to address," Keleher said. "I think principals and athletic directors really struggle with it."
When a situation arises where disciplinary action is required, Keleher said the school usually relies on police reports or a responsible adult who reports the incident by calling the school and explaining what happened.
"It's not like we're chasing around the town looking in garages for parties," he said. "At the same time, you want something in place to address these issues."
However, writing a policy is an evolving process. Over the past 10 years, Keleher said the school has looked at the policy at least five or six times.
"A policy will never be perfect. You run into problems where you run it by the lawyers and they say you can't do certain things. I've even had instances where the police say the policy interferes with their investigation because kids won't come forward. I don't know an athletic director who doesn't wrestle with this," he said.
Keleher said a new approach is going to be used to, hopefully, instill more loyalty in players to their team.
"A commitment to DHS may not be as strong as a commitment to their team," he said. "I think that may be one of the inroads we can make. I think there are kids who will really buy into it."
Capt. Fred Komm of the Darien Police Department said he didn't recall any specific instances where investigating officers were unable to obtain information because a student or athlete didn't want their name mentioned in the report. However, Komm noted it would be very possible for such a situation to arise because of the agreement athletes sign with the school not to be in the presence of alcohol or drugs.
"We wouldn't keep a kid's name out of the report anyway, if they asked us to," Komm said. "If kids are worried about getting in trouble then they should think about not doing it."
Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone said the high school's policy is in a constant state of review so administrators can better understand what is working and what isn't working. One of the key elements from Falcone's perspective for any policy is to make sure it is doing what it is intended to do.
"We want kids to make good choices and we hope they make good choices," he said. "The problem is that if the only incentive for them to make good choices is from a policy then we are being short-sighted."
Like Keleher, Falcone said one of the challenges with enforcing the policy is dealing with events that didn't take place on school property.
"Our policy indicates we have jurisdiction off campus but it's much more difficult to have jurisdiction over something that happens in someone's home," Falcone said. "We want to make sure we are working with accurate information."