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Parents question ‘zero-tolerance’ policy at Ennis High School

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Angry parents leave town hall meeting
SHERRY LONG
The Ellis County Press

ENNIS - Some Ennis High School parents left a town hall meeting in the high school commons area more angry and confused than when they first arrived.

School administrators sent flyers home to parents notifying them of a town hall meeting on Oct. 27 to discuss the problem of Ellis County drug and gang activity creeping into EHS.

Topics ranged from dress code to how the school handles fighting, bullying, gang activity and drugs.

In the first six weeks of the 2003-04 school year, EHS had eight expulsions because of drugs or alcohol, 17 peer mediations, and 14 fights that were possibly gang-related.

Ennis Independent School District Police Chief Kevin Haynes said the district was 'trying to get ahead of the game.'

'The meth labs are everywhere out in this county. We've had two in Ennis in the last week. One of them was a mobile lab driving around in a car,' Ellis County Sheriff Deputy Johnny Brown said.

Brown serves on the Metro Narcotics Intelligence Coordination Unit.

'They make it and then turn around and sell it. They'll get what they want and then sell it to high school kids.'

He said parents can be their kid's best friends, but should be a parent first.

The narcotics unit does not go into the schools with drug-sniffing dogs as a rule, Brown said, but they have gone to schools where the K-9 unit was used to find drugs in vehicles.

He said if he found any students with illegal substances, they would be arrested and put in jail.

'Ennis ISD is no tolerance fights or drugs. So a student found with drugs or alcohol on campus will immediately be suspended and then they are expelled,' Mary Mosley, assistant principal at EHSl said.

A parent asked if the school was following up by pressing charges with city or county authorities on students who have been involved in 'criminal activities.'

School officials said any students involved in fighting or who have been found with drugs are written a citation and filed with the city.

Parents asked about the district's zero-tolerance policy.

'The question asked before, as far as zero tolerance, do we have zero tolerance or do we not,' a concerned father of a sophomore student said.

'We either have it or we don't. If we have it, are we applying it?'

Parents demanded to know if all students would be treated the same when caught for the same offenses.

'If you're going to have a zero-tolerance policy, I just want to clarify that if my child gets caught with drugs or alcohol and her child gets caught with drugs or alcohol there are both going to be both punished the same,' a high school mother said

'But what you're telling me is last year that wasn't done, because zero tolerance wasn't necessarily enforced. I want a commitment from the school. If you're going to have a zero-tolerance policy, you are going to enforce it.'

Another parent asked what would happen to his son if a group of students began beating up on him and he fought back.

'The law says you're allowed to defend yourself,' EHS Principal John Doslich said.

Doslich said students would be allowed to put up their hands, feet or put their attackers in a headlock to defend themselves.

When the student being attacked starts to swing to inflict physical injury then the student would be just as responsible for the fight as the kid who started it, he said.

According to Doslich the school is required to notify the city when any physical attack occurs, but he said name-calling or verbal threats could not be reported.

Holly Dyer, the peer mediation director at EHS said students involved in disputes are brought together in a structured format to discuss and work through their problems.

Dyer said peer mediation is students helping students.

She said she trains the student mediators, who conduct the sessions with adults nearby, but not directly involved in the sessions.

'A student does not have a psychology degree to counsel another student,' one mother said.

Another parent said 'If you are getting harassed by a gang of people, peer mediation forces you to sit down one on one with the people you are scared to death of. How is that psychologically helpful for a child.'

An EHS student and member of peer mediation said in all the cases he has mediated he has never had any problems between the students after the sessions.

Officials said Ellis County is not immune from problems in large cities, such as gangs.

As kids move southward with their families from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex gangs will continue to rise within the county.

Haynes told attendees the attorney general categorizes gangs into four divisions: delinquent youth, divisional turf based, gang oriented and violent.

One parent, who declined to give her name, said after attending the meeting she would not be surprised if the school district did nothing to address parents' concerns.

She said she felt like the district was not taking the issues seriously because only one of the school board members and no top officials, including the superintendent, were present at the meeting.

'We pay a superintendent $200,000 a year and he can't show up. Only one school board member showed up,' the mother said.

'Obviously the school is not trying to do its best.'

Bill Chapman, EISD superintendent, acknowledged he was not at the town hall meeting.

'I have every confidence in our campus administrations to work with our students, parents and faculty to resolve problems,' he said.
'We have every qualified people on each campus.'

EHS Assistant Principals Evan Heckmann and Mary Mosley conducted the meeting, with speakers from the sheriff's department, EISD police department, and a county juvenile officer.

Doslich said he was confident in his fellow administrators to properly handle the meeting, while he represented the district at a playoff volleyball match.

Some parents stressed the need for more communication between the school district and the city police forces, with one even asking if the City of Ennis Police Department had been informed of the meeting.

'It's a community problem,' a parent said.

The principal said, 'It's not just a single problem, but a multi-problem,' indicating parents and the community need to come together to find the arising problems in the school.

'A fully involved communication is the best way to help boys and girls,' said Chapman.


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