Drug and Alcohol Policy Overhauled, Ending Era of No Chance Approach


Carrie Cao ’23

Mr. Steve McKibben, dean of community life, speaks to The Record about the Drug and Alcohol Policy.

School administration announced a major overhaul to the Drug and Alcohol Policy in early March, culminating a decades-long effort for reform revitalized nearly a year ago by all-school president Sydney Goldstein ’22, who formally proposed the revision to the administration. The change marked the retirement of the long-standing No Chance Policy, which had maintained a perennial hold over the school’s disciplinary guidelines since its establishment in 1986. 

The No Chance policy originated in 1980 following a widespread drinking incident on campus that resulted in the suspension of 40 Seniors, according to a 2000 report by The Record. The suspensions frustrated faculty members, who were burdened with keeping the suspended students caught up with schoolwork. In response, the school — led at the time by Headmaster A. William Olsen Jr. — implemented a two-strike system, in which students who were caught in possession of drugs and alcohol for a second time were expelled.

The two-strike system, however, was soon replaced as faculty believed it exacerbated drug and alcohol use on campus by emboldening students to take advantage of their first chance. Headmaster Arthur White, who replaced Headmaster Olsen in 1983, shared the sentiments of the concerned faculty and implemented the No Chance policy in 1986.

Proponents of the overhaul argued that this previous No Chance approach was outdated and failed to reflect the school’s responsibility as an institution of education. “This is a policy that has long outlived its usefulness,” said Mr. Stephen McKibben, dean of community life and a self-described advocate of the change. “I don’t think there’s any sort of educational value to [the No Chance policy].”

Goldstein, who ran for all-school president with a promise to reform the Drug and Alcohol Policy, moved quickly to propose a change after being elected. In September, she presented the proposal — which punished students with general probation and removal of leadership opportunities — to the community. “We believe this is a more comprehensive and inclusive reaction toward a policy that impacts the most vulnerable members of our community,” Goldstein wrote at the time. 

After months of discussion and revision, the administration approved the change to the Drug and Alcohol Policy and formally announced the new policy — which will take effect in the fall of 2022 — on March 4. In the announcement, Mr. Craig Bradley, head of school, proclaimed, “[The] new policy reflects well on our community’s capacity for open-minded, thoughtful collaboration and communication as we work together to evolve our community standards and disciplinary responses.”

The expanded role of the Health Center — which now provides substance use evaluations and coordinated counseling with offending students — was a priority for the school, according to administrators. Goldstein said, “The inclusion of the Health Center in the new policy is important so that the policy can work to provide the necessary medical attention to the student under the influence of substances in the moment.”

Supporters of the No Chance policy’s removal dismissed concerns that more lax punishments would encourage illegal substance use on campus. Mr. McKibben said he believed the new policy actually established a stronger deterrent. “Students [who face discipline] are going to remain a part of our community,” he said. “And as a result, they will be a walking deterrent — a physical reminder of the consequences of making bad choices.”

Goldstein also implied that the severity of the No Chance policy led students to believe it wouldn’t be enforced. “I believed many were under the impression that the No Chance Policy wouldn’t be implemented since it was so harsh,” she said.

Celebration of the new rule, however, was overshadowed by the school’s continued efforts to enforce the old one. On March 29, five seniors left campus after being caught in possession of alcohol, school officials confirmed to The Record. The move — seen by many students as unfair due to the lame-duck nature of the No Chance policy — sparked immediate backlash.

In a March 27 email to the community, Aliya Nurmohamed ’22 implored students to sign a petition in support of the immediate implementation of the new Drug and Alcohol Policy before the discipline of the five students. Nurmohamed wrote, “Be courageous. Help your fellow friends. We need you and consider yourself in the same position. We need your help and we all need a second chance.” 

The petition, which amassed over 130 signatures, proved futile as the administration refused to accelerate the implementation of the new policy. During the process of deciding the timing of the new Drug and Alcohol Policy’s implementation, School officials said they had extensively discussed executing it immediately, but ultimately decided against it.

“There are families who may have chosen the school because of the No Chance policy, believe in it 100%, honor it, value it, and changing the policy midway through the year would be taking away from the school’s previous commitment,” he said.

Mr. McKibben also emphasized that enforcement of the new policy would require the Health Center to conduct substance abuse evaluations and establish protocols beyond the ones briefly outlined in The Almanac, work the school will be unable to complete until next year. “There are some things which are going to have to take place that we’re not quite set up for,” he said. “We haven’t set up systems for substance evaluation — making sure that people who get caught using substances aren’t addicts.”

The dismissal of the Seniors came as part of a larger community-wide push to rid the campus of substances. On April 4, the school held a period of amnesty during which students were instructed to discard illegal substances without facing discipline. 

Amnesty events typically precede targeted room searches; the school also searched all lockers in the Mars Athletic Center shortly after the amnesty, according to the administration. “Room checks are unpleasant and distasteful,” said Mr. McKibben. “But I also know there are substances on campus, and we must address that moving forward.”

Mr. McKibben reiterated the new policy’s potential ability to radically shift the school’s culture regarding substance use. “We’re not going to say to someone that just because they made a mistake, they can no longer be part of our community. Instead, we’re going to keep you in this community. And we’re going to love you as part of this community,” he said.