By Chen Shen
Assistant Head Master at Boston Latin School Malcolm Flynn once chased three students smoking pot from one roof to another. Flynn fell into a dent when he tried to snatch one of the students and thus got seven stitches on his hand.
“When I got there Malcolm has already got cut. I remember the next day teachers called the students’ parents in. One of the kids acted like an asshole, and you know what? His parent was worse. The father’s a bigger ass,” said head custodian at Boston Latin School Charles Bucchi, who span his Nylon computer chair around, laughing, while talking about how students in one of the oldest, and most prestigious public schools in the United States are doing marijuana.
Ranked second best high school in Massachusetts by US News this year, Boston Latin School sets highly selective entrance exams to pick the most intelligent students in. The school’s 2012 SAT reasoning test score reached 608 in Critical reading, 621 in Mathematics, 601 in writing, way ahead of the average score of 428, 460, 424 in Boston Public Schools and 506, 523, 500 in Massachusetts. “98 percent of the kids here are very smart. They are occupied by smart things and wouldn’t have time to think about other stuff,” said night custodian Kevin Richardson, when he shared his homemade banana bread with four other custodians in their locker room in the basement.
The school is full of ambitious kids, “since I’m here at Boston Latin, I would be more interested in looking into colleges like Harvard,” said junior student Connie Chang, who is also the vice president of the student council at Boston Latin. “The students here are far much better than that in the school I used to work, where kids swearing to teachers in class,” said Richardson. Nevertheless, high-flyers also seem unable to resist the temptation of marijuana.
The drug related suspension rate at Boston Latin School was high. There was one drug related suspension in 2009, three in 2010, three in 2011 and two in 2012 at Boston Latin School. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the school’s drug suspension rates were ranked top three among all the Boston public schools. Considering the schools’ high-achieving academic performance, the equally high drug suspension rate made it stands out from all the Boston public schools.
“We caught students smoking pot,” said Bucchi, chuckling while he waved his hand back and forth around his chest, trying to describe someone’s height. “And the kids I caught recently in first floor boys’ room were seventh graders, short kids, stoned out of their mind. They were suspended couple of days for that,” said Bucchi.
Marijuana is far much more popular than cigarettes among Boston Latin students. “When we got into senior year, some of our friends started to smoke pots,” said Lucy, a senior student at Boston Latin School who declined to reveal her last name. “I know an eighth grader who did pot and got expelled last year.” Lucy is on the swimming team. The blonde skinny girl said it’s not very hard for her to get some weeds if she wants. “I do have a few friends, not a lot, are selling pots here, and they are making some money,” said Lucy, insisting despite the convenience, she had never tried using pot.
Lucy’s friend Sophie, who also declined to tell her last name, was more straightforward in what she thought about using marijuana. “I’ve never had interests in getting cigarettes, but pot, yes!” said Sophie. The girl who kept yanking and twisting her hair during the talk seemed to know the pot market in school quite well. “How much is it? Well, twenty bucks and you can get a dub,” Sophie answered with her fingers curled, trying to show how much the amount is. She didn’t even try to deny her favor of pot, “honestly it tastes better than cigarettes, and cheaper!”
“Drugs for the most part are not issues in Boston Latin, we’d had a few guest speakers who were graduates of Boston Latin and shared their not-so-good experience of doing drugs during school,” said junior student Victor Zeng at Boston Latin School. Zeng is the president of Premedical Society, a student organization with some ten members who aspire to go to medical school. “I know a bit about the drug issue. I know there was at least one who did it a few years back and got expelled. But I am fortunately not connected enough to know why these kids did drugs,” said Zeng. The junior student who thinks weeds would sabotage people’s judgment and therefore their academic performance said he would never ever be interested in befriending with those students who sell pots.
Like sex and cigarettes, marijuana is something students know it’s around but feel unspeakable to outsiders. “You are not quite sure if anybody you know specifically is doing it, but you know it’s happening,” said two junior students at Boston Latin School who declined to give their real names. The two boys were discussing mathematic questions while they waited to get picked up at the school front gate. “There have been several specific incidents in the past. It’s not open, people who do that won’t tell any kids they think is not in their group,” said one of the boys wearing braces on his teeth and plastic framed glasses on his face. “It’s really just depending on what your group of friends are. I don’t do it, but I guess it’s probably just some way to escape from the daily problems,” said the other boy.
Boston Latin School Assistant Head Master Malcolm Flynn who has been overseeing school’s discipline for fifty years declined to comment on schools’ marijuana issue.
“I know that it’s out there, but we don’t see it as an issue here at this school,” said Boston Latin School nurse Kimberly Brogan-Healy. Healy has a son who also attends Boston Latin. She said she feels safe having her son in the school. “He’s a teenager, certainly has some teenage problems. But generally as a parent I feel safe letting him study here, getting great education,” said Healy.
Custodian Bucchi considered balcony and roof are students’ favorite spots when they fancy a sip of pot. “In a late afternoon I heard some noise, so I went onto the balcony. I followed the noise and smell all the way in the back. I saw those kids smoking pots. So I shouted, what are you doing! I caught them for like five times before and that time I finally get to look at them,” said Bucchi, who later went class by class with Assistant Head Master Flynn to recognize the students on the roof. Bucchi got the students and they were all suspended. “Some kids don’t think, they really just don’t think,” said Bucchi, shaking his heads.
“People think pots are more harmless, because there have been a lot of education here at school. We know cigarettes are bad for our health, I mean the voice and lung cancers,” said Elle, Lucy’s friend from the swimming team. Elle also refused to give her last name. Unlike Sophie and Lucy, Elle thought marijuana is a bit far-fetched for her. “You have to know a friend who sell, otherwise you won’t get that. So it’s actually not that easy to get,” said Elle.
Like her friend, Elle also denied using marijuana but admitted the strong existence around her. She said, “I have one friend who got caught high and suspended for couple of weeks. But he actually didn’t get caught at school. It’s more about his family. You know, people are not stupid here, they won’t come to school high.”
The oddly high rate of drug related suspension isn’t directly because of the Boston Latin School is applying a “zero-tolerance” or other strict school policy. According to Boston Latin School Student Handbook, “possesses or uses any non-prescribed controlled substance, including narcotic drug,….marijuana, alcoholic beverage, or….will subject to suspension/expulsion.” This is quite lenient comparing to the code of conduct of Boston Public Schools, which specify that possession of marijuana could cause one-calendar year of expulsion from school.
Students at Boston Latin know their rights quite well. “As far as I know, we won’t get expelled for smoking pots. Only when you are caught with weeds in the locker trying to sell them then you would probably be expelled,” said Lucy. She also considered smoking pot is somewhat a signal that indicating the person is senior in school, “like we are,” said the girl, giggling.