Sunday, April 25, 1999

Suburbs can't flee drugs

Efforts focus on teaching, but dogs help

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When it comes to getting caught selling, using or possessing drugs and alcohol on campus, students in Northern Kentucky's suburban schools are caught more often than those in urban districts, an Enquirer investigation found.

        National studies show a rise in drug and alcohol cases in communities where students have more money and easier access to such substances.

        Districts with the most violations were: Kenton County, 29; Boone County, 24; Grant County, 20; Pendleton County, 14 and Fort Thomas, 11. Other districts reported less than 10 drug and alcohol cases last year.

        In those districts, school officials said they offer a continuous barrage of drug and alcohol prevention and education programs.

        “We've recognized the fact that this is problematic with youth in our community but I don't think our community is very different than most communities where adolescents reside,” said Jim Simpson, Grant County Schools superintendent. “It's a matter of being very candid and forthright in recognizing this is a community problem, not just a school problem.”

        The Enquirer's study found drug and alcohol cases made up only 3.5 percent of all incidents of violence and substance abuse in Northern Kentucky schools last year. These numbers are significant because involvement with drugs and alcohol can lead to violence, said Ronald Stephens, director of the National Safe Schools Center at Pepperdine University.

        Kenton County Schools Superintendent Neil Stiegelmeyer said students need encouragement to stay away from illegal substances.

        “We work with the kids to let them know they can have a good time growing up,” Mr. Stiegelmeyer said. “They can be a neat person and they don't need all this stuff.”

        Several districts also use drug-detecting dogs to sniff out illegal substances. Inspecting student lockers and cars is one way school administrators are trying to tell students that drugs will not be tolerated. The dogs and their police handlers have searched at Boone County, Pendleton County and Grant County high schools.

        The searches are organized to be preventive. Students don't know when the police will arrive. When they do, students are not exposed to the search dogs.

        Coordinated with the Boone County Sheriff's Department, the Florence Police and other canine units, the searches usually yield small amounts of marijuana, Boone Sheriff Mike Helmig said.

        Bryan Blavatt, Boone County Schools superintendent, said educators cannot ignore that drugs are in their communities and need to confront the problem directly.

        “The biggest part of new safe schools legislation is that districts can't be in denial.”


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