“The recent arrests of a number of people on drug charges has prompted questions by members of our community regarding consequences for students arrested who are involved in illegal activities, including the use and sale of drugs. Many of these questions relate to student athletes,” Cartersville City School System Superintendent Dr. Howard Hinesley said. “In Cartersville, we have a zero tolerance for drugs on our campus or anywhere. We are proactive in our efforts to ensure our campuses are drug-free. We work closely with our law enforcement partners to be sure we have a safe learning environment.
“Students who are charged and found guilty through the tribunal process are offered an opportunity to continue their education through an alternative education program. They do, however, forfeit the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities.”
Last month, one current and several former high school athletes from Cass and Cartersville high schools were arrested by Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force agents in an ongoing investigation.
DTF Commander Capt. Mark Mayton said last week that 15 to 20 people have been arrested in the months-long operation. He declined to comment further.
Bartow County Schools Superintendent Dr. John Harper, who denied receiving outside pressure, said that while the recent incidents did not take place on school property or at a school function, the county school system “regrets the decision any current or former student would make involving illegal substances.”
“We take our responsibility very seriously in helping our students make the right decisions regarding their participation inside the classroom and outside of the classroom,” he said.
Both systems use a tribunal process when determining a student’s future with the school.
“In the legal process, we do not have meet a standard that the legal community has to meet to prove someone guilty. We have a different standard. To participate in an extracurricular is not a right,” Hinesley said. “Now we, as Dr. Harper indicated, we believe a young person should continue their education. We make that opportunity available, but as far as extracurriculars, if they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, we rely on the information we are given from law enforcement. Sometimes that is spotty, I’ll admit, because they are moving through the legal process, but if we find enough information to support that some kind of inconsistency in judgement on what we would expect somebody representing us on a tennis court, basketball court, band field, then we are not going to let them participate.”
Harper echoed Hinesley’s comments.
“What we respond to are the charges that the students are charged with,” Harper said. “Those are the decisions that we make with regard to what our policies call for, and we give them an opportunity for the fair tribunal process so you present their case and be judged accordingly by officials inside of our school system. Did it fall within the policy? Or did it fall outside the policy? And then we work very hard to be consistent in handling all of our students the same way through that fair tribunal process.”
When questioned about a potential hearing for the current Cass athlete, Brandon Etheridge, Harper said, “One of our students was arrested and we have our tribunals on Thursday.”
For Cartersville City Schools, the recent incidents brought to light varying penalties in the extracurricular realm, which Hinesley said the system will address with across-the-board guidelines.
“One of the things that has been brought to our attention is that maybe we have some inconsistencies, not with drugs but maybe with some student who has been arrested or stopped for DUI, one coach may have this penalty, another coach have that penalty,” he said. “... So we are going to be proactive to put together an extracurricular code of conduct so there is some consistency.”
Although those arrested in recent weeks were affiliated with high school athletics, officials from both sides said the incidents are not indicative of a broader drug problem among students.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a broader problem for our high school students,” Harper said. “We are a microcosm of our community, and one of the things that we expect from law enforcement is to help work those issues and communicate well with us and with our student body to say, ‘Hey, these are activities we do not support.’”
Referenced by both superintendents was the work of K-9 units on campuses in county and city schools.
“In our case, we have given our principal the total option if he thinks there is a need for whatever reason to have the K-9 on campus — he did it I think twice last year — we have no indication we have any problems with drugs on campus,” Hinesley said. “That’s not necessarily true, as law enforcement can probably tell you, [of] off campus. What we try to do is have a strong education program while at the same time make sure people understand there will be consequences on or off campus if they are part of the student body.”
“I can tell you last school year we had 12 reported incidences and cases of students with drugs. Some of that was sales, mostly marijuana and pills. ... I think we had one, if you want to call it a ‘hard’ drug,” said Dan Knowles, chief of police for Bartow County Campus Police. “Of 12 cases out of 7,000 middle- and high-school kids, that’s pretty low. ... Since I have been here, I can’t tell you how many times we have brough the K-9s in — it’s numerous, but we have never had a K-9 actually find drugs with a student. The whole thing is a deterrent.”
Sheriff Clark Millsap said deputies encounter people of all ages, not just students.
“I don’t think you can give it a specific gender or a specific age. If you’ll look around, not only are we arresting 17- and 18-year-olds, we’re arresting 35- and 45- and 50-year-olds,” he said. “It may seem like it’s a trend now that we are arresting more high-school students, but I don’t know that you could specifically say that’s who’s dealing the drugs. It just happened to be this instance and each instance is probably different over time.”