Schools told expulsion over narcotics must be last resort
Department of Education guidelines ensure secrecy around cases where school pupils are found to have been involved in drug possession or abuse. But most schools retain the right to expel pupils over drug incidents.
While there is some anecdotal evidence that drug use has been a factor in several expulsions in recent years, no data has been collected on the issue.
Department guidelines say such incidents should be treated on a 'need-to-know' basis.
All records must be held confidentially by the principal or deputy principal.
While the department is clear in its stance that the use or supply of illegal drugs in schools is not acceptable, its behaviour and disciplinary guidelines also state that expulsion is to be considered only as a last resort "after every effort at rehabilitation has failed and every other sanction (has been) exhausted".
While most schools adopt a version of the department's suggested guidelines, some take a noticeably harder line when it comes to drugs cases.
At fee-paying Terenure College, the possession or consumption of illegal substances in school or during school-related activities is "not tolerated" and is punishable by expulsion.
The college says its strict stance is motivated by a concern for the individuals involved and the welfare of the other pupils.
According to its substance-abuse policy, the possession or consumption of alcohol at school or during school-related activities "may also incur expulsion".
Similarly, the code of responsibility and behaviour at St Joseph's Patrician College in Galway city also takes a hard line. Although its code says expulsion will be considered only "in the most extreme cases of indiscipline and after every other effort at rehabilitation has failed and every other sanction has been exhausted", there are exceptional circumstances where a student can be expelled for a first offence.
These could include supplying illegal drugs and committing violence or sexual assault.
However, many other schools are less clear in their codes of conduct about how they would deal with a drugs case.
Some emphasise the need for considering a range of disciplinary measures for breaches of the school code, without explicitly stating how that code would be applied in a drug-related incident.
All the school policy documents seen by the Irish Independent say support should be offered to students involved.