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Schools battle drug use

Budget cuts take away tools in war, however

Posted: July 27, 2008 12:25 a.m.
Updated: September 27, 2008 5:03 a.m.
This is the second part of a two-part series.

Drugs are most likely available in every school in the Hart district, but programs are in place to try to keep campuses drug free.

“I think every school in California has an issue with kids using drugs and alcohol, so schools are always looking for ways to keep drugs and alcohol off of our campuses,” said Richard Freifeld, director of student services for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

“We have a very strict policy for any kind of drugs or alcohol at school, and the consequences are very severe, so I think that is a big deterrent.”

If a student is found in possession of drugs or alcohol, the students is transferred to another school or program on the first offense, and expelled from the district on the second offense. Students found selling drugs on campus are expelled from the district on the first offense.

“Students don’t want to be removed from the school they are attending because they have adjusted to it and they have friends there,” Freifeld said.

Cary Quashen, founding director of ACTION, a local nonprofit organization that provides substance-abuse and crisis counseling programs for parents and teens, thinks the Hart district is doing a good job in its battle against student drug use.

“I think drug education should start at home, but I get parents who come to our facility and they want to blame the schools,” Quashen said. “I think the schools are doing the best they can.”

Dogs gone

Another drug deterrent used by the Hart district in the past were drug dogs, which  visited schools periodically, sniffing for banned substances.

But the drug dog program was one of the casualties of the recent district budget cuts.

“That’s a tragedy. I know that kids are afraid to take drugs to school because of those dogs,” Quashen said. “It didn’t keep the kids from using drugs, but at least it kept the schools a little safer.”

Freifeld agrees that the drug dogs were a deterrent, but Hart District Governing Board Member Steve Sturgeon said the dogs didn’t come often enough to be a real deterrent, and that students sent warnings via text messages when the dogs arrived on campus, giving one another a “heads up.”

“The number of incidents that the drug dogs found were not significant compared to what I believe is actually occurring on our campuses,” Sturgeon said. “If the dogs were there more regularly, and if drug testing was a possibility, it might prevent more students from doing (drugs).”

Kevin, 16, a Hart district student who is involved in the ACTION support group and has been clean for more than nine months, said drug dogs would have been a deterrent for him when he was using drugs — if they had come more often.

“Schools could bring the dogs in more often,” Kevin said. “That would have stopped me from having drugs at school.”

While the drug dog program has been cut for the moment due to budget shortfalls, Sturgeon said it is near the top of the list of programs the district hopes to reinstate if funds become available.

More tests at school

Students may feel they already take enough tests, but one drug use deterrent that the Hart district is considering is mandatory drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities.

Sturgeon has been one of the school board’s main proponents of drug testing.

“I have suggested that we do some kind of mandatory drug testing, yes,” Sturgeon said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that to keep our kids safer and our kids out of trouble.”

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of drug testing students in junior high and high school if they participate in extracurricular activities.

Since then, about 16.5 percent of U.S. school districts have implemented student drug testing programs.
But some critics of the measure say testing kids who are involved in extracurricular activities would just discourage students from participating in sports, music, and other activities deemed “extracurricular.”

And since those activities often steer youngsters away from drugs, the testing program would create a Catch-22.

Random testing of all students is prohibited by law.

Taylor, 15, a Hart district student who is involved in the ACTION support group and has been clean for six months, said that while she participates in extracurricular activities, a mandatory drug test wouldn’t have affected her drug use when she was heavily using.

“I was so wrapped up in my drugs that it wouldn’t have mattered,” Taylor said.

If parents are concerned that their child might be using drugs, Frefeld said, they should test them at home. But he said the district is also looking into the possibility of implementing the extracurricular drug-testing program.

“Right now we’re weighing the pros and cons of that,” Freifeld said. “I think it’s another resource, another thing to look at, when dealing with a drug and alcohol program.”

Quashen is already drug testing students in the Hart district on an as-needed basis, he said.
“If they think it’s needed, they get the parent’s permission and I go in,” Quashen said. “Different schools will call us and we will come and test the students.”

Instructing teachers
Kari Herwig, an ACTION counselor, said that teachers need to be educated more about what signs to look for to detect drug abuse, and they should make the consequences of being caught very clear.
“When a teacher catches a student in the classroom who is high, I think a lot of teachers just don’t know what to do next,” Herwig said.

Hart district teachers are taught to look for obvious signs of drug abuse, and they are also updated about drug issues periodically by school administrators, Freifeld said.

“Administrators meet periodically with sheriff’s deputies to go over drug issues, and then the administrators share what they learn in faculty meetings and so forth,” Freifeld said.

Sturgeon said he feels the teachers are doing a good job detecting potential drug users.

“When we get drug-related offenses brought to the board, it is usually because a teacher, administrator or campus supervisor has recognized that the student was engaged in drug activity and turned them in,” Sturgeon said.

Drug programs

Educational programs like Red Ribbon Week, Every 15 Minutes and the Honor Grove at Central Park help prevent drug and alcohol use by students, Quashen said.

“I think a lot of education is happening,” Quashen said. “It takes the whole package — that’s what works — dogs, drug testing and education.”

Freifeld credited resources in the Santa Clarita Valley community for helping decrease student drug use.
“ACTION has volunteered hours and hours of resources and intervention programs to the Hart district,” Freifeld said. “We’re very fortunate to have people like Cary Quashen in our community.”

The Child and Family Center has also been a valuable resource for the district, he said.


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