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Schools Seek Various Ways To Discourage Drug Use

November 27, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ South Carolina school principal Ben Nesbit became suspicious when two students who had been suspended for illicit drug use passed a drug test with little trouble.

″We found out a couple of weeks ago that there’s a chemical that washes drugs out of the system,″ said Nesbit, whose school - Spring Valley High of Columbia, S.C. - has received national acclaim for its drug-fighting efforts. ″The students use it full time: washing out their systems and being tested, all the time being high.″

The street name of the chemical is ″Golden Seal,″ said District of Columbia teacher Leroy Lewis Jr., explaining the ″herb″ also is popular with students in the nation’s capital.

This latest student scam is proof that the war on drugs in schools is serious and must be waged in a no-nonsense but flexible manner, Lewis said.

″Kids recognize all the problems of the system,″ said Lewis, a U.S. government teacher at Spingarn Senior High School. ″They know how to circumvent us better than we know how to plan.″

The battle to keep the nation’s youngsters away from drugs has evolved from a mere ″Just Say No″ slogan, devised by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, to a threat by the Bush administration to end federal aid to schools, colleges and universities tat fail to document tough policies against illegal drug use.

The tougher approach reflects the nation’s growing concern with drug abuse. Statistics say that 5 percent of high school seniors drink daily and more than 60,000 adolescents ages 12 and 13 have tried cocaine.

″Young people show a faster propensity to develop an addiction and the damage by addiction can be more permanent,″ said Doug Hall of the National Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education.

The government is expected to spend some $500 million under the drug education program this fiscal year, about $180 million more than the year that ended Sept. 30. In 1986, only $3 million was budgeted for drug education.

Almost all high schools and 87 percent of elementary schools offer some sort of anti-drug lessons. The new national drug strategy says school-based prevention programs should be reinforced by tough policies on use, possession and distribution of drugs.

Schools are trying a variety of approaches with no clear trend emerging. Success is hard to determine since so many of the approaches are new.

In Texas, football players are tested. Illinois and Delaware laws allow spot searches of students, and Delaware plans to use drug-sniffing dogs in the schools.

Jefferson County, Ky., schools notify police of every campus drug incident, suspend students for six to 10 days for drug possession or use, and transfer repeat offenders. The Pittsburgh Board of Education has decided any student convicted of trafficking in or possessing drugs, on or off school property, will be subject to expulsion.

″Drug Free Zone″ signs surround public and private schools in Prince Georges’ County, Md., warning that anyone found possessing or distributing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school yard faces strict penalties, ranging from 5 to 40 years in prison.

Education officials estimate as many as 25 states have some sort of drug- free zone programs or laws.

″We see more expulsions and suspensions for use because it’s against the law,″ said James Better, staff director of the Education Department’s Drug- Free Schools Recognition Program. ″But most schools have referral and re- entry programs.″

At the local level, Education Department officials estimate 73 percent of America’s 16,490 school districts have written policies against substance abuse. Of these, more than 90 percent involve notification of parents and or police, suspension or counseling.

Most major education groups avoid advocating specific drug policies for schools. At most they offer general guidelines, like those jointly developed by the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of School Nurses and the National Education Association.

″We have problems when the feds try to impose decisions on the locals, so national groups avoid doing the same thing,″ said Lew Armistead of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Hall, vice president of the National Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education in Atlanta, said: ″We don’t believe in dealing with these people as criminals. You really can’t incarcerate your way out of a drug problem.″

Hall pointed to statistics that say ″school buildings or campuses are one of the least popular places″ for students to use or distribute drugs. Also, he said, students tend to use drugs more at night and on weekends.

″PRIDE supports treatment on demand,″ said Hall. ″But the problem is it’s difficult to draw the line on whether the school is responsible or the parents.″

Nesbit insisted: ″It is a school problem because they can’t learn when they are stoned. They can’t learn when they’re dead. They can’t learn when they’re in the hospital. We’re going to be paying for their rehabilitation forever and ever because so many people are hooked.″

Nesbit said his drug-fighting efforts encompass more grassroots approaches of ″sending out letters of complaints to local liquor stores that sell alcohol to minors″ to encouraging temporary suspensions for drug use and automatic expulsion for drug sales.

In addition to the District of Columbia’s citywide policies, Lewis offers early-morning tutoring for students who want help with school work and ″to talk about what’s going on with them, with somebody they want to trust.″

Jenlane Gee, a teacher from Modesto, Calif. - recognized along with Nesbit and Lewis as among the nation’s best teachers and principals - complained that the government’s drug-fighting efforts have ignored elementary schools.

Gee, who teaches third graders at Christine Sipherd School, said just as much emphasis should be focused on the elementary schools because studies show that children usually decide by the third to fifth grade whether to experiment with drugs.

Nesbit added that simply talking - or acting - tough won’t stem student drug use.

″I think there’s a hard line″ emerging in the schools, he said. ″But there’s no comprehensive policy that helps kids to make good decisions about their future, their bodies and their values.″

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