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Drug and Alcohol Policies in Ontario Schools

Copyright © 1998-2008

Then. . .

Back in September 1991, all school boards in Ontario were required by the Ministry of Education to have alcohol and drug policies in place. These policies were often formulated with the assistance of staff from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (then the Addiction Research Foundation).

These policies were based on the sound rationale of providing a comprehensive approach to drug and alcohol problems in the school setting.

Policies had three components:

  • intervention (which included protocols to staff for providing identification), information and referral for students with known or suspected problems with drug use
  • prevention (which mandated prevention programming in the curriculum)
  • discipline (which gave clear guidelines for disciplining students for possession or trafficking on school property)

Although previous board policies have been superceded by the Safe Schools Act and the Ontario Code of Conduct, the principles and philosophy of these policies remains sound.

Now. . .

New legislation of the Safe Schools Act 2000 gives the Ministry of Education legal authority to establish rules with respect to student conduct, suspensions, expulsions and other discipline matters. The Ontario Code of Conduct sets clear provincial standards of behaviour. It specifies the mandatory consequences for student actions that do not comply with these standards.

All participants involved in the publicly funded school system — students, parents or guardians, volunteers, teachers and other staff members — are included in this Code of Conduct whether they are on school property, on school buses or at school authorized events.

Alcohol & Drugs. . .

In accordance with the Education Act and the Safe Schools Act 2000, the principal shall suspend any student for possessing alcohol or illegal drugs while at school or engaged in a school related activity. However, it should be noted that the suspension of a student is not mandatory if:

  • the student does not have the ability to control his or her behaviour;
  • the student does not have the ability to understand the foreseeable consequences of his or her behaviour; or
  • the continuing presence of the student in the school does not create an unacceptable risk to the safety or well being of any person in the school.

Nevertheless, the suspension of a student often brings to the forefront underlying issues. As such school administrators, school staff, support staff, and school social workers, can work together with the student and his/her parents to address the underlying cause behind the alcohol or drug use, (and consequently), the suspension. Often integral to the process is involvement from staff from local health and social service agencies. They can partner with the family and school to best address the needs of the student.

The potential for improvement in overall school safety is unlimited when partnerships are strong. Staff and students, along with the police, parents, and the community, can foster a positive and safe school environment in which all parties work in co-operation with one another.

Finally. . .

With the Education Act (including the Code of Conduct), The Criminal Code, and the Safe School Act, (to name only a few), school officials now have ample legal authority. In many situations, there is overlapping authority and school officials can choose to respond to an incident under the Education Act or the more formal powers of the Criminal Code or other penal legislation. It is generally advisable for school officials to rely on the Education Act rather than to resort to penal legislation. The current law enables educators to respond to alcohol and drug problems in schools. Although some of these legal issues are complex, there is no legal obstacle to implementing the three components of a comprehensive alcohol and drug policy. The real challenge for educators is to use their legal authority with restraint in an effort to balance these three components, while maintaining the type of supportive learning environment essential to the policy's overall success.

For more information on school policy, you may want to read:

The Legal Rights, Powers, and Obligations of Educators Regarding Student Alcohol and Other Drug Use, (PDF) Robert Solomon, 2004, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.