Rutherford Institute scolds School Board

After the death of 17-year-old Albemarle High School lacrosse player Nolan Jenkins, and the ticketing of dozens of teens for alcohol use, the Albemarle County School Board felt it needed to do something to curb underage drinking, especially by student athletes. This summer, the Board solidified policies that would allow schools to exert control over off-campus behavior and revised the athletic training rule [download a copy of the athletic training rule in PDF], requiring athletes and their parents to sign a pledge that the student will not drink or use tobacco or drugs.

Now, the Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties organization based in Charlottesville, has penned a letter taking aim at the training rule [download a copy of the letter from in PDF], saying it “poses a serious risk to the rights of parents and students and constitutes an unwarranted invasion into the privacy of families.”

The rule requires parents’ complicity in reporting alcohol use by their teens.

John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, says the policy threatens the “sanctity of the family” and supplants parental authority. [Ed. note: Whitehead’s son, Jayson, is a senior contributor to this paper.] Whitehead also argues that athletes and their families are being denied their constitutional right to equal protection, since the rule singles them out from other students.

The School Board’s attorney, Mark Trank, says the training rule does not violate state or federal law “in any legally meaningful way.”

Trank says, “I think that the law is absolutely clear based upon U.S. Supreme Court cases that local school boards can treat student athletes differently from other students.”
Brian Wheeler, School Board member and the parent of a student athlete, says he’s also O.K. with stricter standards for athletes. In fact, he’s interested in a policy to cover all extracurricular activities.

Trank is intrigued by another point: Whitehead writes that the training rule lacks wording that would allow students to drink alcohol as part of a religious ceremony. The School Board may examine that issue when they meet with staff about implementation of the rule at an April 26 work session.

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