In response to recent articles and editorials in your newspaper, I would like to comment on the topic of illegal substance use among yeshiva students. I am disturbed at how the yeshivot in the tri-state area are handling this issue. As a parent of four children who have graduated from three of the yeshiva high schools in the area, and as a basketball coach of yeshiva high school students, I can tell you firsthand that there is not a school in the area where use of illegal substances is not a significant problem. Unfortunately, the decision to treat this problem like an isolated incident by singling out one child who has been caught and then “trading that child” to another school for another child that has had a similar issue has failed. The illegal substance use, whether alcohol, tobacco (vaping) or drug use (marijuana) has continued to escalate in all local high schools. Rather than learning from expelling a single child from school, the kids have instead learned ways to use these substances without detection. The kids who are caught using these substances are by no means the only ones using them—rather they are the ones not savvy enough to avoid detection.
I disagree with the philosophy of expelling yeshiva students for illegal substance use in school as a means of ridding the school of these substances. As we know, good kids do stupid things. They make mistakes. That does not make them “bad kids”; it just makes them kids who made a bad choice. Many of the yeshiva students using illegal substances on or off school grounds will go on to become doctors, lawyers, businessmen and rabbis and contributing members to their communities. No one is disputing that it is wrong to use illegal substances on or off school grounds. However, to single out the one student who was caught and expel him or her sends the wrong message. No one has been helped. Self-confidence and self-respect are vital for kids, especially in their high school years. To expel a student for this transgression can destroy his or her self-esteem. The family will also be greatly affected, as will the classmates. No one benefits.
Expulsion is not the answer. It hasn’t changed yeshiva kids one bit over the years. Use of illegal substances has continued to grow. Instead of singling out a child, use this opportunity to help him, help his family and help his classmates. Imagine how much more of a powerful learning experience that will be for his classmates than expulsion. Yeshivot need to change their philosophy and work with these kids and their families who are undergoing a difficult time rather than dropping them and permanently damaging them.
Burt Wisotsky, MD