Pubdate: Sun, 16 Apr 2006
Source: Times Herald, The (Norristown, PA)
Copyright: 2006 The Times Herald
Author: Keith Phucas, Times Herald Staff
Bookmark: (Youth)


LOWER PROVIDENCE - In an effort to reduce substance  abuse and 
anti-social behavior in Methacton School  District, a police officer 
will be assigned to Arcola  Intermediate School this fall.

According to Lower Providence Police Department Chief  Francis 
Carroll, the department is eligible for a  $63,700 grant from the 
Pennsylvania Commission on Crime  and Delinquency (PCCD) that would 
pay for the school  resource officer.

Though the plan calls for basing an armed police  officer at Arcola, 
the Lower Providence officer would  also be responsible for four 
district elementary  schools.

Methacton High School and Worcester Elementary School,  which are 
part of the Methacton School District, would  not be served by the 
planned Lower Providence school  police officer because those two 
schools are located in  Worcester Township, which relies on the 
Pennsylvania State Police for service.

Posting a police officer to Arcola, which is the  largest 
intermediate school in Montgomery County with  1,340 students, is not 
intended as a punitive measure  but is aimed at staying ahead of 
problems, Carroll said.

"The main focus is for prevention and education," he said.

Besides being alert to illegal drug use, the school  resource officer 
would work with school officials to  prevent student bullying and 
help resolve conflicts,  Carroll said.

According to an analysis drafted by Carroll justifying  the need for 
a school officer, beginning in 1999, after  the school district noted 
the "emergence of certain  behaviors with respect to substance 
abuse," Methacton  contracted with Rocky Mountain Behavioral Science 
Institute to administer The American Drug and Alcohol  Survey. The 
school population was surveyed during the  1999-2000 school year.

The survey's findings were cause for concern, according  to the 
police chief's analysis, which showed that the  average Arcola 
school's eighth graders reported first  using alcohol and drugs at an 
earlier age than seniors  at Methacton High School.

According to the survey results, Methacton 12th graders  reported 
first getting drunk at 14.6 years of age;  Arcola eighth graders at 
11.7 years old. This is nearly  three years younger than the seniors surveyed.

The Arcola eighth graders also reported trying  marijuana and 
inhalants at a younger age than the high  school seniors.

The Student Assistance Program, which is administered  by 
Pennsylvania's Department of Education in  conjunction with other 
state agencies, is designed to  assist school personnel in 
identifying students with  drug and alcohol problems, or mental 
health conditions that contribute to poor academic performance.

During the 2004-2005 school year, 20 Arcola  Intermediate School 
students were referred to SAP,  according to the township analysis. 
During that same  year, 92 Methacton High School students were 
referred  to the program.

During the 2004-05 school year, Methacton school  administrators 
issued 887 student referrals for  disciplinary action. This does not 
include students  disciplined in class by teachers. The referrals 
resulted in 234 days of suspension.

School violence data

Pennsylvania school districts are required to report  annually on 
incidents of violence and weapons  possession.

At Methacton School District, incidents included  threats to students 
and teachers, student assaults,  fighting, theft, ethnic 
intimidation, sexual harassment  and weapons possession at school, 
according Carroll's  study.

The school district shows a slight drop in violent  incidents since 
2003. During the 2003-04 school year,  there were 57 incidents 
reported. For the 2004-05  school year, the figure was 45.

In Pennsylvania schools, violent incidents and weapons  possessions 
have risen since 2002, according to  Violence and Weapons Possession 
in Pennsylvania's  Schools report published a year ago.

During the 2002-03 school year, a total of 1,728 knives  were 
reported; in 2003-04, there were 2,030. Firearms  rose from 47 to 73 
during this same period.

Aggravated assaults on school staff increased from  2,365 to 2,839. 
Total arrests rose from 4,841 to 5,245  in that time.

While gang activity is not prevalent in Lower  Providence, Carroll's 
paper said, "changing  demographics" in the surrounding areas 
increased police  awareness about gang activity, "with particular 
concern  in the area of female gangs and ethnic gangs."

In 2001, 29 current and former Methacton district  students were 
arrested after a melee in a public park  that resulted in a stabbing 
of one individual and the  beating and bludgeoning of several others. 
The  combatants wielded "tire irons, baseball bats, knives,  Samurai 
swords and daggers," according to the chief's  report.

Carroll said the police three-year grant, which  requires a 25 
percent match from the municipality,  still must be approved by PCCD 
and the township Board  of Supervisors. However, he is confident the 
plan has solid support and anticipates it would be approved by  the 
township Board of Supervisors July 1.

"This is a program that's been successful across the  country," he said.

The school officer program goals call for reducing  bullying and 
suspensions by 10 percent, and school  substance abuse by five percent.

The planned officer would work closely with child  welfare agencies, 
Juvenile Probation officers,  Methacton Youth Aid Panel, Methacton 
Safe Schools  Committee and the Methacton Safe and Drug Free Schools 
Community Advisory Council.

The anticipated school officer would be picked from the  current 
ranks of the police department, Carroll said,  and a new police 
officer would be hired as a  replacement on the regular force.

"We'd like it to be a smooth transition," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman