Pubdate: Fri, 19 Nov 2004
Source: Mobile Register (AL)
Copyright: 2004 Mobile Register
Author: Penelope McClenny
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Reports Of Marijuana, Cocaine Consumption Exceed Both State And National

Twenty-seven percent of Baldwin County Public Schools students in grades six
through 12 reported using an illegal drug at least once in the past year,
results of a statewide survey indicate.

Baldwin system officials are reviewing pages of statistics and charts
created through the PRIDE Survey, which sampled students anonymously
last spring.

The levels of marijuana and cocaine use reported by Baldwin high
school students generally exceeded average levels found statewide and
nationally by PRIDE, which was administered in about half of the
states. The Mobile County school system expects to issue its PRIDE
results soon, schools spokeswoman Nancy Pierce said Thursday. The
Mobile Register began requesting the Mobile system's results two weeks
ago, but has not received them. In Baldwin County, about 9,100
students in sixth through 12th grades participated in the survey,
which included more than 200 questions about alcohol, drug and tobacco
use as well as school violence. PRIDE Surveys were given throughout
Alabama and the other states as part of the federal No Child Left
Behind Act, officials said. Information was not available Thursday
about the survey's possible margin of error. Among the key Baldwin
findings: At each of the county's six high schools, the percentages of
students who said they had used marijuana in the past year either
matched or topped the survey's 31 percent national average.

Gulf Shores High had the highest number of students who reported using
marijuana and cocaine.

Forty-three percent said they had smoked marijuana in the past year,
while 17 percent said they had used cocaine. Fifty-five percent of
Baldwin students in high school grades reported consuming alcohol at
least once in the past year, and 37 percent said they had used tobacco.

Law enforcement officers have described underage drinking as an
epidemic in coastal Alabama. High-profile incidents in recent years
have led to the arrests of numerous teenagers on charges of possessing
alcohol illegally and the arrests of some adults accused of allowing
minors to drink at parties. According to the survey, local students
were most likely to use drugs and alcohol or weeknights and weekends,
rather than at school itself. "That is a problem we're both aware of
and concerned about," Superintendent Faron Hollinger said. "We
realize, though, to be successful in any endeavor we're going to have
to go beyond the school to the home, possibly to the faith-based
community, to have all those forces working together." Some members of
the religious community have already gotten involved. Craig Boyer,
pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Gulf Shores, said his and other
congregations began looking into a drug problem about two years ago.
That Holy Spirit Community Organization has found alarm among
residents about young people being exposed to illegal drugs.

"There's a very serious problem, and to date we just haven't
recognized it or been willing to admit it, one of the two," Boyer
said. Baldwin Assistant Superintendent Terry Knight plans to present
PRIDE survey results and other information to school board members as
part of the system's consideration of launching a drug testing
program. The system has committed $50,000 from this year's budget for
research and a possible pilot testing program.

"We're getting some real concern among the community to do something,"
said board member Margaret Long, who represents the Gulf Shores area
and supports the drug testing. "I think it'll really be good, but
we've got to make sure we've covered all our bases."

Earlier this month, Orange Beach City Council members unanimously
passed a resolution supporting the school board as it looks into drug
testing. Councilman Pete Blalock said it's important that such a
program provide help, not simply punishment, for those testing
positive. "It all depends how it's implemented and administered,"
Blalock said. "If something happens where it saves one or two kids
down the road, then it's worth it." Blalock also urged people to
carefully note the PRIDE methodology as they analyze results. "A
survey that's done by kids in school that's anonymous, I don't think
it's very valid all the way," he said. "Do I believe that's there's
drugs in the Gulf Shores school system?

Sure, but there are drugs in all school systems."

Janie Pitcock, director of operations for PRIDE, said the surveys
included questions that might signal whether a re spondent was giving
inconsistent accounts of his drug and alcohol use.

Several questions sought the same information but with different
wording, she said. If a student provided an answer that varied from a
previous response, the results were automatically rejected, she said.
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