And this month, ruling on a lawsuit filed by a Haddonfield student, Administrative Law Judge Elia Pelios found the district's policy failed to meet New Jersey guidelines that limit discipline for off-campus conduct to behavior that risks safety within the school.
Though the possibility remains that Cerf could go against Pelios' ruling when he hands down his decision next month, Haddonfield school board president Steve Weinstein acknowledges that the 24-7 policy has suffered a significant judicial setback and may even be revoked by the board when it meets this week.
"When we adopted the policy, it followed the legal precedent, but that's changed now," Weinstein said. "The town and the district have been through a lot on this. But there was a fairly widespread culture of drinking when we instituted the policy, and I believe we have done a lot to change that."
Back then, Haddonfield Memorial - one of the state's top-performing high schools - had acquired a reputation for its students' after-hours exploits. Tales of raucous house parties without parental supervision and rampant drug and alcohol abuse had circulated widely.
That came to a head in 2007 when, within about a month, a reportedly intoxicated 17-year-old Haddonfield football player leaped to his death from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and a house party in the borough left the hostess' parents to clean excrement, urine, and other bodily fluids from their $50,000 Steinway piano and walls and other furnishings. Online photos from the party showed one girl with a bottle of rum strapped to her hip.
It was in that climate that the 24-7 policy, which had been established a year earlier, was ramped up. Town leaders held impassioned meetings in packed rooms. The situation could be "reeling out of control," Mayor Tish Colombi declared.
Around the country, high schools were increasingly targeting students for their off-campus misbehavior. In Haddonfield, arrangements were made for borough police to inform school officials when students were caught drinking or using drugs, even before the student's guilt was established and even for those under 18 and supposedly protected by juvenile confidentiality rules.
From the start, borough officials knew they were walking a tight legal line. In early 2006, the county Prosecutor's Office warned the Police Department it was opening itself up to lawsuits by sharing juvenile records, according to court documents.
But the borough's commissioner for public safety, Edward F. Borden Jr., a former Camden County prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, disagreed. Denying underage substance abusers the privilege of participating in sports was a therapeutic rather than disciplinary measure, he argued, a concept courts had upheld in challenges from civil rights advocates.
"There's a lot of interpretations of that state law," Borden said last week. "It principally has to be for counseling and positive purposes, to help kids follow the right path. And I felt that's what we were doing."
Since 2006, more than 80 Haddonfield students have been disciplined under the 24-7 policy, which they were required to agree to before joining in extracurricular activities. Most accepted their punishment.
But in 2009, an unnamed female student - who was arrested after police raided a house party, sending students leaping out windows and across rooftops - sued in federal court, claiming her civil rights and privacy were violated when the school barred her from winter track meets. Another student later filed a similar suit.
"Schools do have a right to discipline criminal behavior. But there's a big difference between dealing drugs and being caught or accused of consuming alcohol," said Matthew Wolf, a lawyer who represents both students.
"It's such a shame Haddonfield didn't take action when we first brought this to their attention" he said, referring to his contention that the policy violates state law.
A Haddonfield resident and Memorial graduate himself, Wolf said he had been the subject of ridicule in online message boards. Two years ago, he wrote to the borough, objecting to the posting on the town's official website of a sermon in support of the 24-7 policy. It was later removed.
"I have heard many times, 'Oh, kids will be kids,' or, 'I'd rather they drink in my house than somewhere else,' " read the sermon by the Rev. Bill Getman of Haddonfield's First Presbyterian Church. "I don't believe such statements reflect the kind of love you and I should express for the young people in our lives. Instead, they reflect the choice to turn our backs on them when they need for us to be adults."
Among some parents and former students, the 24-7 policy is seen as draconian and unlikely to change the established culture of high school drinking. With college applications and other concerns to think of, it is difficult to find students or parents who will speak out publicly against it.
"Those voices have quietly come up to me and said they like what I'm doing," Wolf said. "It's a deafening silence."
Known for its Victorian and Georgian architecture, Haddonfield remains one of South Jersey's most sought-after and high-priced suburbs.
But Borden, who led the charge against student drinking, says problems can came with affluence.
"There's no statistical barometer . . . but there's still a very serious juvenile alcohol problem in town," he said. "In wealthier towns, kids are going to have more funds. And like they're going to buy more clothes and other things, they're going to purchase more alcohol."
Contact James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.