Pubdate: Thu, 12 Oct 2006
Source: Columbia Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2006 Columbia Missourian
Author: Jake Siegel


When considering the issue of drug use in public  schools, it can be 
difficult to separate fact from  fiction.

"What is the perception, and what is the reality?" said  Lynn 
Barnett, assistant superintendent for student  support services and 
head of the Columbia Public School  District's substance abuse task force.

To help answer that question, Barnett and Karla  DeSpain, school 
board president, talked with students  at Hickman High School on 
Wednesday morning. DeSpain  contacted George Frissell, chairman of 
Hickman's language arts department, after reading an article in  the 
Missourian about a debate his students had on drug  testing in 
schools. The students had discussed the  decision by the Francis 
Howell School District in  suburban St. Louis to institute mandatory 
drug testing for students involved in athletics and 
extracurricular  activities.

On Wednesday, Barnett and DeSpain asked the students  for their 
perspective on drug abuse and possible  remedies to what they say is 
a problem. After meeting  with three sections of Frissell's classical 
ideas and  world religions class, Barnett said she heard some recurrent themes.

"I think they're saying the same thing," she said.  "'Drugs are 
mostly being used over the weekend.' They  don't perceive it as a problem."

The student perception of drug use in school is  different from the 
image some parents have, DeSpain  said. "From the parent perspective, 
there's a car in  the (school) parking lot where you can get drugs."

DeSpain noted there was consensus among the students  that 
suspensions don't deter drug use or abuse.

When Barnett proposed closed lunch -- meaning students  would have to 
stay on campus during the break --  students were quick to oppose the 
idea with "no's" and  "boo's." Some said the short lunch period, 
about 30  minutes, effectively prevents drug use, and others 
said  the police keep watch in the school neighborhood.

Barnett and DeSpain said they were pleased with the  opportunity to 
talk with the students about the issue.

"It gives me so much respect for our students," Barnett  said after 
the classes.

"They want to have input," added DeSpain, who has two  teenagers, one 
of whom is a sophomore at Hickman. "They  liked being asked."

The task force, made up of about 50 parents, 
teachers,  administrators and law enforcement officials, will 
meet  through January, with the goal of drafting a plan to  remove 
drugs from public schools. The school board will  have a workshop 
Oct. 19 to look at current drug policies.
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