Pot use up at high school | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Pot use up at high school

Christina Proctor

It’s available. It’s cheap, and it can often be the first step on a path that leads to serious, negative consequences.

In the last month at least six students at South Tahoe High School were caught either in possession or under the influence of marijuana on school grounds. One of the busts was big enough to charge the teen with possession of marijuana for sale.

Since the beginning of the school year, 31 students were suspended for the use or possession of a controlled substance. Two of those students have been expelled and five more are facing expulsion. The total number of suspensions is up to 47 compared to 33 from the same time period last year.

Principal Karen Ellis said although the number of student offenders compared to the total student population of around 1,500 is still relatively small, it’s a fact that concerns school officials.

“Any amount of marijuana on campus is too much,” Ellis said. “We find that 60 percent of these kids are ninth- and tenth-graders and most of it has occurred during lunch. The students have been caught before they go back to class, so luckily it has not been a determent to the classroom.”

The age of the offenders and the opportunity that an open campus provides them during the 45-minute lunch period is leading school officials to consider other options.

“We are looking at doing something different with the freshman class,” Ellis said. “Coming from eighth grade to the high school is a big transition. The students are searching to find their place and they suddenly get a lot more freedom. We tell the students they become a part of the South Tahoe family, but like with any family, you have to earn certain privileges. We’ve talked about closing the campus to the freshman class, with the open campus being something they earn as they mature.”

Mark Romagnolo, assistant principal, said having school resource officer Cameron Carmichael from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department on campus helps the school mete out even more immediate and serious punishment for the crime.

“When they receive a citation, it’s an arrest,” Romagnolo said. “They go down to the police station and get fingerprinted and mugshots taken. It’s a wake-up call to many kids around here. It’s also a shock to a lot of the parents. Many times they had no idea their child was smoking marijuana.”

Carmichael said being in the school gives him a unique opportunity to talk with the teen-agers and occasionally even get some leads.

“Many times it’s easier for the kids to get marijuana than alcohol,” Carmichael said. “The dealers are out there in the community. They’re out in front of gas stations and grocery stores.”

Many proponents of marijuana claim it doesn’t have any long-lasting effects, but according to Ellis and Carmichael it starts a sequence of behaviors.

“There’s a pretty consistent clear pattern,” Ellis said. “The expulsions haven’t come from continued drug use, but an inability to follow the other rules. There is also usually a pattern of tardiness and falling grades.”

Ellis said the school takes a zero-tolerance approach to the drug problem, but is also tackling it through education.

“In the past we have been good at handing out consequences. Now we’re approaching it with help from Tahoe Youth and Family Services,” Ellis said. “They offer counseling for the kids and parents.”

“All of these kids are good kids,” Carmichael added. “They just made bad choices. Hopefully, catching them early will help them make better choices in the future.”

Nevada carries much stricter penalties and across the state line at George Whittell High School possession of marijuana is a felony. Although Douglas County doesn’t place sheriff’s deputies in the schools they claim they have had few incidents of drugs on campus.

Officials at Whittell said they haven’t had any this school year, and last school year only four drug-related suspensions came before the school district board. Sheriff Ron Pierini said the county has two working drug detection dogs and they make unscheduled visits to the county’s schools.

“We haven’t had any kind of controlled substance found in the schools,” Pierini said. “There is a major deterrent in the seriousness of the offense. Possession of marijuana can lead to one to six years in jail for an adult. A proactive approach and zero tolerance had kept the drugs out of the school.”

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