Erin Schmidt, ESchmidt@ExplorerNews.com
Catalina Foothills School District will hold four drug forums starting this week in response to three students arrested for possessing heroin on campus.
The forums were announced during a routine board meeting Oct. 11, along with a detailed packet given to board members referencing the district's policies and procedures regarding drugs and alcohol.
The first forum, "Connecting the Community for Drug Awareness," will be at 9 a.m. Oct. 20 and is hosted by the high school's Family Faculty Organization. Parents and students are encouraged to attend.
"It's a highly emotional subject," said board president Cliff Altfeld at the Oct. 11 board meeting.
Superintendent Mary Kamerzell, referencing statistics of drug and alcohol use on the district's campuses said that, in the 2003-2004 school year, there were 32 drug and alcohol related suspensions. In 2004-2005 the number increased by two.
The numbers represent middle and high school students only; no elementary students were disciplined.
The number of incidents for each year amounts to one percent of the sixth to twelfth grade student enrollment, according to information provided by the district.
"We're not saying these are the only students who are under the influence," Kamerzell said.
She added that the public's idea that the majority of teens are using drugs is inaccurate.
"There may be a perception that everybody is doing it," she said. "But we don't believe that is an accurate statement."
The district has established policies to control drug and alcohol use on its campuses. Possessing a drug within a drug-free school zone could lead to arrest. In the case of the three students arrested in September, they are being charged with a felony.
In order to maintain a drug-free school zone the district employs trained professionals.
A Pima County Sheriff's Deputy is assigned by the county to the middle and high schools. Five security staff, one security director and four monitors patrol at the high school. Four of the five have more than 10 years of law enforcement experience.
Student informants are also used to help the security team. The informants remain anonymous and help provide information on illegal substance use, along with information about any student possessing drugs on campus and within the greater Tucson area.
Bike patrol officers make a regular sweep of the campus and surrounding desert areas at the high school. Three bicycles are used to patrol the parking lots, desert and other areas of campus. Two golf carts also aid in the monitoring of high school students while on campus.
"It's always a challenge for us to keep track of kids," Kamerzell said, adding that the size of the campus is a challenge. "There is so much space that students can gather."
With the topic of drug possession fresh in the minds of parents and students, Kamerzell said she does not believe there is a problem with drugs on campus.
Board members requested more information regarding education and drug prevention within the district and suggested other means of intervention.
"Heroin in the high school scares me in a way that I have not been scared before," Altfeld said.
It is crucial students are not using drugs at school, he said, adding that it is the district's responsibility to monitor its students.
"Students don't have a lot of time to be private. It's either the car, school or home," he said. And many times the parents are unaware of what their children are doing, so the school has a responsibility to be the parents for the student while they are on campus, he added.
"In order for us to educate them, they have to be sober and drug free," Kamerzell said.
Altfeld said the district should discuss other ideas for drug prevention. He suggested the district consider urine testing or random locker searches for students.
"I think it's appropriate for a board to put that option on the table for community discussion," Altfeld said.
He added that the need for intervention is premature but beginning a dialogue about drug and alcohol use on campus is a safe place to begin.
"The community doesn't know what it wants at this time," he said, adding that parents and community members are aware that there could be a problem and it is time to discuss it and attempt to fix it.
Board member Dan Cooper offered a word of caution during the board meeting. An attorney, Cooper has represented students in similar situations, he said. In response to further education regarding drugs and alcohol, Cooper said, "I do know we shouldn't lie to the kids."
"It's fun," he said. "It's one reason kids like to get drunk and high."
Cooper was not condoning illegal activity, but he did not think the district should become a police force either.
"Just because the kid used drugs, doesn't mean the world has ended," Cooper said.
But that doesn't mean that it is OK, he said.
"You have to be really careful on what message you send," he said.
"I have a hard time believing that there is a huge crisis."