San Juan school drug policies in need of change | Guest column

by KATHLEEN BARTHOLOMEW

San Juan Island

I made a terrible mistake.

I knew my child’s friends and where she was every minute of the day. But I made a bad assumption. I thought she was safe at school. I was wrong.

This erroneous assumption has put my loved one on an entirely different trajectory, introducing her to a world of drugs at 14.

How can a straight–“A” student’s promise of a bright future be suddenly altered just weeks after high school has started? What are the conditions the adults around her support or ignore that allow this to happen?

When we legalized marijuana for adults, did we intend to extend that to our children as well? If so, no need to read on.

A student with low self-esteem and a high need for being accepted was easy prey for upper-classmen who supplied marijuana at lunchtime. All freshmen are a vulnerable group as they transition to high school; it is our responsibility as parents and leaders to provide the safest conditions possible during this phase.

Drug use in and during school hours must be addressed if we are ever to meet our most fundamental ethical obligation to keep our children safe. Without a strong counter to the blaring culture of drug permissiveness in our youth, any parent’s ability to stem the tide of early drug usage and to provide reasonable conditions for good choices will be severely challenged.

For starters, San Juan School District’s open campus policy for freshman must be repealed. School policies on drug use and bullying are ineffective. These well-thought-out intentions mean nothing to me—they can’t erase the past or pave the way to a better future.

When I notified a coach of marijuana use in students playing extra-curricular activities I was told, “The policies don’t allow us to infringe on individual rights and do drug testing.” Since when do minors’ rights supersede parental responsibilities to protect our youth until they are physically capable of recognizing the consequences of their own actions?

Hallway signage mocks the current reality: “Drug Free Zone.” It’s not that you can’t use drugs at school, the reality is simply that you can’t get caught using them. And the saddest part of all is that this is nothing new. Denying this reality makes us all complicit.

While the goal is not to protect our children from ever being exposed to drugs (and the strong make wise choices) in the end peer pressure is too powerful a force to resist, especially in a small community where the threat of ostracism from the group leaves no other options.

Better policies would help establish the conditions for success while the frontal cortexs of youth are still developing.

A study directed by the National Center for Education Evaluation of over 4,700 high school students involved in extracurricular activities found that students reported less substance use when subjected to random drug testing.

Without consequences and with ineffective policies, drug use among juveniles will proliferate in our state. Our policies are useless. Parents are naïve to think their children are safe, and administrators are powerless without community support.

The current system is so miswired that faculty can be searched and tested at any time – but not students. Am I the only one who finds this fact disturbing? Every single one of us has a role to play.

We need courageous leaders who have the wisdom and insight to acknowledge that our current policies on juvenile drug use are inadequate. We need administrators, teachers and coaches who require random drug testing and parents who demand drug free schools, and citizens who understand that improvements simply cannot happen without additional dedicated resources.

Without this concerted effort, it will only be a matter of time before we will all feel the effect of this downward spiral.

Editor’s note: Random Drug testing is illegal in all Washington state schools. For info on Orcas & Lopez school policies, visit www.orcasislandschools.org or www.lopezislandschool.org.