© Texas Zero Tolerance
Texas Zero Tolerance
Texas Zero Tolerance
Plano ISD

From published account...

Some see inequity in students' punishment
Plano: Of about 30 kids on bus that had alcohol, 7 are sent to alternative school

November 9, 2007

By STACI HUPP / The Dallas Morning News

Seven Plano students will do time in alternative school for getting caught with alcohol on a chartered "party bus" they took to the Plano East Senior High School homecoming dance last month, students and parents say.

Plano school officials, who handed down the penalties this week and last week, say they follow a student code of conduct that automatically sends teens to alternative school for certain alcohol and drug offenses.

But the process troubles some parents, who say school officials apply the punishments unevenly and based them on flimsy evidence.

"This school makes up the rules the way they want to do it," said Josef Kirsch, a doctor whose daughter also was kicked off the tennis team because of the bus incident. "It makes no sense."

Party buses have replaced limousines as the transportation of choice to some proms and homecoming dances because they accommodate larger groups of friends.

A Plano mother rented one for her son and about 30 other kids, who boarded after a pre-dance dinner at a west Plano restaurant on Oct. 27.

The charter bus company provided a driver, but no chaperons were on board.

Some kids smuggled several large bottles of vodka and other kinds of liquor – one police official described it as "enough for everybody" – onto the bus.

Students say only about half the group drank shots of the liquor or mixed it into plastic cups of soda.

"There was drinking on there, but it was, like, just a select few," said Nick Knowles, 18, a senior who says he drank only Sprite. "I didn't know until I was on the bus that there was alcohol."

In the half-hour it took to get from the restaurant to the dance at Southfork Ranch in Parker, students said at least one girl drank until she passed out.

Shortly after the party bus arrived at the dance, the girl awoke and began to vomit, students say. Her date told a security officer and an investigation began.

School officials found several empty bottles of liquor, empty soft drink cans and a container of marijuana after a search of the bus, according to a statement from the Plano school district.

District officials said an off-duty security guard called the Parker police.

Teenagers say homecoming T-shirts bearing each student's name gave away which kids had been on the bus.

Some kids ran when word spread that police officers had arrived, Nick Knowles said. Others complied with school officials, who brought them outside for questioning.

"I thought I'd be able to go out there and ask for a Breathalyzer and prove my innocence, but I couldn't take one," Nick said.

Parker city police said they ticketed 18 people for alcohol offenses, including minor in consumption and minor in possession of alcohol. One boy received a ticket for possession of marijuana paraphernalia, said Police Chief Tony Fragoso.

Chief Fragoso said officers handed out tickets based on interviews with students and school officials, as well as the liquor bottles on the bus.

He said he later decided to single out only those kids suspected of drinking instead of kids who simply had been on the bus. He dropped all but eight of the charges.

Nick Knowles said police dropped his possession ticket, but school officials "sentenced" him to alternative school until mid-January anyway.

"It almost seems like a big injustice," Nick said. "If I don't even have a charge, I don't know why I'm being punished."

Six other kids, including Dr. Kirsch's daughter, received a similar punishment. All of them had alcohol charges.

Students say school officials went easy on two other students who were charged with alcohol offenses – the son of a school district employee and a cheerleader.

Plano district officials declined to talk about the punishments, but said they weigh each discipline case carefully. Students are allowed to make their case in disciplinary hearings, the outcome of which is decided by a panel that includes administrators, teachers and counselors.

School officials also point to the student code of conduct, which applies at school, near school and at school functions. Each student's family receives a copy of the code at the beginning of every school year.

"We don't make those decisions in isolation," said Cathy Galloway, director of student services for the Plano school district. "If it's a 'he-said, she-said' situation, we're going to look for one more piece of corroboration somewhere – something to substantiate somebody's story."

Attorneys say the law backs school districts, even when they hold students to a higher standard than police do.

"A lot of times the parents try to turn it into an evidentiary hearing in a court of law, and it's not," said M. David Alexander, president of the Education Law Association in Dayton, Ohio. "It's the school's prerogative to be judge and jury."