The Board of Education and school administrators continued their discussion around the Commitment policy employed at Darien High School, and changes are coming. “Commitment” as it were, is, in name, going away. New handbook policies governing student behavior and expectations will replace the commitment policy. In addition to those policy changes, any student who plans to participate in any extracurricular activity will have to complete an educational session dealing with drug and alcohol use prior to participating in a chosen activity.

The changes come after over a year long effort from a committee comprised of school administrators, parents, teachers, coaches, local police, mental health professionals, legal counsel, and other community members. Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner pointed out representatives from Silver Hill Hospital, and thanked them for, “generously offered support in terms of providing professionals,” who helped in the process and will offer aid in the sessions to come as well.

The administration has set up sessions on four dates. Wednesday, Aug. 23 from 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16 from 8:30 to 10:15 a.m., and Tuesday Sept. 19 from 7 to 9 p.m.. Athletic Director Chris Manfredonia confirmed that additional sets of four sessions would happen prior to the start of the winter and spring athletic seasons.

“We know people have schedules that conflict on a particular day on a regular cycle, and we have a saturday morning in there,” said Brenner as to the reasoning for varying the day of the week the sessions take place.

Jon Bradley is the boys soccer coach at DHS, was part of the committee that helped form this new approach, and was present at the meeting. Bradley suggested perhaps moving the dates back slightly, as many fall teams conduct team meetings during the week in which August 29 falls, and for some that might mean they only have two sessions to choose from. Bradley also suggested that the greatest difficulty might be finding a session that parent and child can attend together, which could make the Saturday particularly popular.

The sessions themselves are made up of three parts. The first part deals with the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on physical and mental health, and is conducted by a social service or medical professional. The second part addressed the impact of illegal drugs on the user’s family, as well as unintended consequences. The third part deals with understanding the impact of drug use on one’s life from a legal perspective, and is given by an attorney or a member of the law enforcement community.

“What we’ve done is built a collaboration with community agencies and with our own administrators. We’ve put together what I think will be a very meaningful program,” said Brenner. Brenner spoke about the opportunity to educate, and the way in which these students and parents will be opening themselves to an education on these tough subjects. “We can’t blow that,” said Brenner.

All students involved in an extracurricular activity must attend at least one full program, and must do so at least once per year. Students must sign in at each session they attend, and at least one parent or guardian must attend with their child. Coaches and staff that are part of extracurriculars will be required to take the courses as well.

The DHS policies dealing with these behaviors are 5250 and 5230, and soon will include wording that allows disciplinary action to be determined by the administration based on the rules and regulations in the student handbook, i.e the new policies. The policy also now includes language dealing with vaping and e-cigarettes, as there has been a spike in student usage. The punishment for tobacco usage used to be seven days, but it has been brought in line with other substance offenses to a 14 day suspension from activities. Further, the handbook will be updated soon to reflect changes. In addition, essentially all language dealing with “commitment” will be eliminated in favor this new approach.

One board member, Duke Dineen, expressed concerns about, “what happens on September 20th”, alluding to the date that follows the last offered session for fall.

The short answer is, students who have not completed a session yet will not be able to participate in extracurriculars until they have done so. However, it will not mean the end of the season for anyone.

“Our goal here is to educate, not to punish,” said Brenner, who also said that if necessary, one additional session could be added. The time in between the last session and the next session would still be time that the student could not participate in extracurriculars. Still, “one time or another, a line has the be drawn,” said Brenner.

The policy itself is DHS policy, not Board of Education policy, as was the commitment. As such, the board does, and has, never actually voted on it.  About 15% of the student body at DHS participates in no extracurriculars at all, and these sessions will be open and available to those students as well, but optional.

A question was posed as to what might happen should a student who did not participate in extracurriculars decide to do so after the four sessions had already passed. Brenner acknowledged that this could be a real situation and said, “If the timing of our scheduled meetings does not accommodate the normal paces of our high school we will be compelled to offer other alternative dates and education.”

“This first year will be a learning curve for all, those who are participating in the program and those who are creating.  We are going into this first round of classes with an open mind looking to create a partnership with our school community to make a positive difference in the lives of our students,” he said.

Further discussion of the updated policy itself and their appearance in the handbook will occur at the next Board of Education meeting on Aug. 22.