‘Honor above all’?

Published 9:24 am Friday, March 27, 2009

As a graduate of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and a former Grateful Dead-following hippie, my ears perked up last week when I heard there had been a drug sweep at the private school where I spent my high school years. A drug-sniffing dog had alerted on 25 different cars in the school’s parking lot, we learned, and one 18-year-old student was arrested.

I’ve been asked if there were similar sweeps at the school when I was a student in the early ’80s, and the short answer is that I don’t really remember. I seem to recall once that a dog was walked through the halls, but at that point in my life I was too nave to understand what he might have been looking for.

In retrospect, I’m sure we had our share of potheads, and I could probably name a few of them today, now that I’m a little bit more worldly. Back then, however, I was blissfully unaware of the effects of marijuana or the telltale signs that you’re dealing with someone who’s high.

I suspect that many faculty members were just as nave. School administrators don’t have the luxury of such innocence today, though, as gang violence, border violations and even terrorism all are fueled by drug money. There are strong libertarian arguments to be made in favor of solving many of those problems by legalizing marijuana. But Virginia hasn’t yet taken that step, meaning that possession of the drug is, at best, a misdemeanor.

Inviting the police onto the school’s campus to perform a sweep of the parking lot with a drug-sniffing dog showed a level of respect for the law that was completely within character for a school whose Web site trumpets the phrase “Honor Above All” as a guiding principle.

Sadly, the school’s action this week in issuing a letter apologizing to students for the sweep flies in the face of that principle. Was it honorable for NSA’s administration to question “the threshold of evidence police used to charge one of (the) students” prior to that student even being tried in court?

Police have said they found marijuana residue — including flakes and seeds — inside some of the cars whose drivers weren’t charged. In apologizing for the “inconvenience” those students suffered by watching their vehicles be searched by police, does NSA’s administration contend that it’s somehow honorable to have even small amounts of an illegal substance in your car?

And how does it advance the cause of honor to have the academy’s head of school invite police onto his campus to conduct the search, only to turn on them in a very public fashion when they do the job they’ve been hired to do — indeed the job NSA should have expected them to do when they were invited to the Pruden Boulevard campus?

Acting with honor isn’t always easy. The academy’s honor code calls for students to take a stand for what’s right, despite the potential negative consequences for themselves and their friends. It’s too bad the school’s administration couldn’t model the same behavior in the face of the tough consequences and negative PR that sprang from last week’s drug sweep.