SCHOOL BOARD chair Barry Pankhurst says he’s shocked by two drug seizures that have occurred in Terrace elementary schools in recent weeks.
The first, at Mountainview Elementary on the bench, took place the end of September and concerned a quantity of marijuana, and the second last week involved the seizure of cocaine from Suwilaawks Community School.
In the first case, a student in the junior grades was suspended according to school district policy and in the second case, the cocaine was found in a small bag in the school lobby by a parent.
“I was blown away by this taking place in our schools,” said Pankhurst of the seizures.
“It’s just such a shock to us to have this kind of activity now in elementary schools. Drug use has become so pervasive in our society.”
Pankhurst warned that those caught with drugs will face the consequences.
“We have a zero tolerance about this and that applies to elementary schools as well,” he said.
“But we need to do something more now. Is it more education or do we come down hard on people who will then face the consequences?”
“We need to ask ourselves why are our kids involved with this type of thing? They should be doing the other things kids do,” Pankhurst added.
He said the board also needs to involve community organizations in its response.
“Schools reflect the community. This is not a school issue only. It is a lifestyle issue,” said Pankhurst.
Board vice chair Art Erasmus was also disturbed drugs are now being found in elementary schools.
“The fact it is now happening in elementary schools for me is troubling. Drug use in society has become so pervasive in the last 10 years and is involving people who are getting younger and younger,” he said.
Erasmus, a retired educator, did note that cases of drug use in elementary schools are rare.
“These kinds of incidents have predominantly taken place at the secondary school level,” he said.
Erasmus added that the younger a student is that contravenes the no-tolerance drug use policy, the more complicated the consequence becomes.
Suspensions are traditionally viewed as acting as a deterrent to other students and to the student being suspended but different thinking might be needed for younger students, he said.
Cutting access to a place of education that is to prepare students for a successful life might not be an answer for all occasions, Erasmus continued.
“When you put an adult offender in jail, does it change their behaviour when that person comes out,” he said.
Erasmus said the two incidents might propel the district’s drug use policy to the top of the list of policies it wants to review.
The current policy was crafted in 1997 and revised in 2005 and does provide for a suspension of five days for a first offence of possessing, using or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The decision to suspend is up to the school principal and other consequences could include counselling of the student and parent/guardian.
A second offence in the same school year of the first one calls for an indefinite suspension.
A student who either supplies or sells illegal drugs, however, will be indefinitely suspended.
In addition, and depending upon the circumstances, the school board may report use, possession, sale or distribution of drugs to the police.
Initial figures available from the school district indicate there were 87 drug and alcohol related suspensions through the district in the 2009-2010 school year and 48 for the 2010-2011 school year.
Up to the end of September, there were two or three, said school district official Brent Speidel.
As of the end of September, the school district had just over 4,900 students enrolled in its schools reaching from the Hazeltons to Terrace, down to Kitimat and up to Stewart.
A more detailed breakdown of the type of suspension or at what school or in what community was not immediately available.
Speidel echoed earlier statements from Erasmus in saying contravention of the drug and alcohol policy at elementary schools was very rare.
“It could be a situation where a student is in Grade 7 and is growing up too fast or perhaps running with older kids,” he said.