Uptick in drug use worries school officials
School board readies to wage its own war on weed, booze
The board of education for Valdez City Schools is poised to crack down on a recent uptick in marijuana related infractions and alcohol related “busts” that have ensnared a small but growing number of upper-grade students in recent months.
It is unclear to all – educators, law enforcement, parents and board members alike – if the increase in incidents brought to light are due to an increase in student use, increased awareness or an increase in the number of reports to officials.
Calls for a closed campus at Valdez High School during lunch, a school resource officer (SRO) to patrol hallways, and the possibility of calling in state troopers with a drug sniffing dog were ideas floated by board members and parents Monday night.
“I think we can get drugs and alcohol off the campus during school hours,” board member Anita Fannin said.
Fannin has bluntly demanded answers – and action – in recent weeks after a Valdez High School student was found to have marijuana in a school locker and a sixth grade middle school student allegedly offered to sell pot (the would-be dealer did not actually have any drugs) to a seventh grader. Police were called in both incidents.
Valdez police have also noted a number of calls regarding underage drinking parties.
To begin a meaningful action plan, Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, had the board look at the option of asking the Valdez City Council to approve an SRO from the police department.
Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek, principal at Valdez High School, told the board she believed the district was eligible to receive grants to pay for an SRO.
A large number of questions such as what role such an officer would play in the day-to-day functions of the schools, how the officer would be paid and what authority would be delegated to the job, caused the board to table the issue - for now.
“I’m not certain a resource officer in the school is going to solve it all,” board member Dolores Gard said. She favored peer-based education.
Others asked if an SRO would be in schools as a deterrent only or as a cop looking to arrest wrong-doers.
Board member Toni Balowski noted that a review of the district’s current drug and alcohol policy and a strong commitment towards its enforcement was a good start.
“We have rules,” he said, “We need to enforce those policies.”
Balcerek noted she had began a new policy at VHS that compels students that return to school late from lunch must meet with her first before being allowed to go to class.
Many concerned adults – parents and educators – believe the school’s open campus enables some students to “get high” or drunk during lunch and then return to school unfit to learn.
“We have really smart kids,” Fannin said, “Think how much smarter they would be if they weren’t smoking pot.”
Jensen said he would contact Anchorage police to begin the process of retraining school employees in DITEP – the Drug Impairment Training Education Professionals – the program initiated by the school board several years back. The program teaches school employees to spot signs of drug use or impairment in students.
After Monday night’s discussion, it became apparent there will be no easy answers or solutions to the current problems, which many long-term observers in Valdez believe is a cyclic problem the district has dealt with in the past.
Balowski suggested the district ask the police department to randomly drop by the schools.
“Why don’t they show up periodically?” he suggested. “Why can’t we have more engagement through the police department?”
The student representative on the board was skeptical that an increased police presence would deter problem students.
“Kids spend most of their spare time evading the same cops on a day to day basis,” he told the board.
The student representative suggested increased faculty vigilance. He also recalled the student body reactions to the presence of a drug dog that once periodically patrolled the schools.
“Those terrified the kids,” he said. “As a student, I thought it was effective.”
While Valdez police no longer have a K9 cop, board members mulled over the idea of inviting state troopers with a K9 into the schools.
Before the board voted to table the SRO vote until more information was available, Jensen noted the newly formed committee to review the district’s drug policy was meeting this week. The committee will be making recommendations to the board to help guide the process of updating and/or enforcing current district policies.
“We need to open our eyes and make something happen,” Fannin said.