Staff at Kooralbyn International School launched an investigation after some teachers smelt what they thought were cigarettes being smoked in a bathroom. The school in question is an independent co-educational boarding and day school, located in Kooralbyn, about 64 km south of Brisbane.
Three male students confessed they had smoked a joint in a toilet area on school grounds, while a fourth said he had been offered the drug. Their honesty in coming clean, meanwhile, inspired principal Geoff Mills to adopt a degree of leniency in his response to the incident.
Mills said he valued the boys admitting they had a problem and asking for help. “We’re a small private P-12 school in the country,” Mills told The Educator. “I have been here 11 years and this is the first instance of anything like this. Our students – even our high school students – still wear their hats outside all the time, stand when adults enter the room, hand in their mobile phones and devices when they get to school,” added Mills. “They call their teachers ‘sir’ and ‘mam’, sing the National Anthem and school song at assemblies… it’s a nice little school.”
Mills noted that the school was quite traditional in its approach to matters like these. “It’s a very strict school and the boys should have been expelled but my attitude in this instance was that clearly the students made some very bad decisions … but they also made a very good, and I believe very difficult, decision to tell the truth, to confess and seek help.”
He said the boys had also offered up information about their dealer to police. “My dilemma was based around how to ensure that there were repercussions for their bad choices and actions,” said Mills. “[If] we reported the matter immediately to the police [and] suspended them [this would] require drug tests if they returned, [and would] place several conditions on their return.”
“I also hoped that by showing some empathy in this instance, we just might be able to motivate the students to find the strength to get themselves clean for 10 weeks… then who knows, maybe they’ll last 10 months or 10 years?” noted Mills. He also said the boys had volunteered to speak at an assembly next term and try to help the school find some good from what was otherwise “a devastating experience for us all.”
However, Mills acknowledged that some staff believed the school ought to be taking a tougher approach to signal that drug use of any kind would not be tolerated. “There are some who have understood my approach… but it would be fair to say that as a school we are struggling with it,” he added. “Schools have survived much bigger problems than this and I'm sure we will too.”