Last Sunday’s Boston Globe ran an article describing efforts in local schools to reduce the use of drugs among students. A number of schools now have police officers stationed within the schools as resource officers. Some schools are working with the police to use drug sniffing dogs to check student lockers and backpacks. The schools describe the police officer as an additional resource who students may talk to if they have questions or problems.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is a well-intentioned but mis-guided approach. Schools should be a community of learning-they should not need law enforcement officials on site. They certainly should not require drug sniffing dogs.
The reality is that our schools have become infested with drugs and drug using students. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) regularly report 40% of the U.S. High School student population engaging in underage alcohol use and use of other drugs. Marijuana and mis-used prescription drugs are the biggest problem, after alcohol, but there is also cocaine, heroin and other drugs available if you know where to look.
In Marblehead, many kids hang out at one of the local parks near the beach. A neighbor reports regularly finding beer cans and rolling papers but last week was startled to find a crack pipe.
It is well intentioned for a community to make a police officer available in the local High School for students to speak with. But where are the other school resources? The teachers, guidance counselors, adjustment counselors and nurses should be the sources of support for the students. Unfortunately, the system has eroded to the point where they are no longer available. As more and more students have been added to classrooms, special needs students mainstreamed without additional supports, position cuts that result in stretching of one position to cover many more classes and schools and a focus on standardized testing results, the regular school staff do not have the time or the patience to address the emotional needs of the students.
I have nothing against police officers but when we need to rely on them to provide support to our students, and need to use drug sniffing dogs to maintain control, something is very wrong with the system.