EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 16, 2013

Editorial: Student’s punishment shows poor judgment

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Erin Cox may be heartbroken about the punishment handed out to her by North Andover school officials. But she can take comfort from the knowledge that she did the right thing.

And while the high school senior made an informed, intelligent decision to look after the welfare of a friend, the adults running the school system opted for the coward’s way out, falling back on a “policy” that insulates them from having to exercise critical judgment.

A few weeks ago, Cox received a telephone call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Rather than let someone risk driving drunk, Cox drove to the party to pick up her friend.

However, North Andover police had also been summoned to the party, where they arrested several students for underage possession of alcohol. Police cleared Cox of drinking or being in possession of alcohol, according to a report from WBZ-TV.

But school officials were unmoved and punished the honor student and star volleyball player. School officials demoted Cox from her post as captain of the volleyball team and suspended her from playing for five games.

“She’s very fragile and I’m worried about her. Very worried about her. She didn’t do anything wrong,” Erin’s mother, Eleanor Cox, told WBZ-TV on Sunday. “She did what she thought was right, and I’m very proud of her.”

“I felt really bad for Erin because she honestly just wanted to help her friend,” neighbor Cara Reiley told Eagle-Tribune reporter Sara Brown. “In my eyes, Erin’s a hero and I think she should be rewarded for doing the right thing which I do believe she did, rather than being suspended and punished.”

The school has a strict policy against drugs and alcohol. According to the high school’s student handbook, those participating in athletics shall not “use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol.” Additionally, athletes may lose their leadership positions if they violate the policy.

It is difficult to see from the story as reported how Cox violated this policy. She was at the party where students were arrested. That her reason for being there was to pick up an intoxicated friend is apparently of no interest to school officials.

This kind of “zero tolerance” thinking is a crutch used by school officials, who would rather not have to make the difficult decisions that usually come with positions of authority. Such decisions require good judgment. But judgments often are called into question by those affected by them.

Rather than have to defend their judgments, how much easier it is to point at a handbook and declare “we have a policy.”

The Cox family has hired a lawyer but a district court judge already has ruled he has no jurisdiction in such matters. There may be no legal recourse for Erin.

The story has gone national and subjected the North Andover school administration to richly deserved ridicule. Who else but a school official would punish a young person for looking after the safety of a friend?

If public pressure does not compel school officials to overturn their decision, Erin Cox will have to be content with the knowledge that she did the right thing — and the adults charged with her “education” have behaved like fools.