As I held out my palms for one of the assistant principals to sniff and check for traces of marijuana, two overlying questions laid heavily in my brain: what in the world is going on, and how common are drug violations such as these in schools?
On Friday, October 30th, whilst the Halloween festivities and halls of costumes were underway, my calculus class went under “lockdown” because of a marijuana-like odor that was detected midway through the period. Our backpacks were checked, our pockets were emptied, and, yes, our hands were sniffed by Assistant Principals Mr. Abrescia and Ms. Lippert. After about ten minutes of searching and questioning, an orange pill bottle filled with marijuana was discovered directly outside our classroom window after a student attempted to dispose of it. The student later confessed.
This violation was one of many so far this school year; however, this should not come as a surprise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most commonly used drug by eighth through twelfth grade students is marijuana. Although numbers for cigarette, alcohol, and prescription pain relievers have significantly decreased, attitudes against marijuana use have also abated. As of 2012, one in five teens have reported that their classmates use drugs such as marijuana during the school day (and one in three have reported one can easily do so without getting caught). The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reported that more than 60 percent of teens use, keep, or sell drugs in school.
The Half Hollow Hills Code of Conduct states:
The Half Hollow Hills Central School District has “zero tolerance” for drugs, alcohol, and the possession of weapons. Students who are involved with drugs, alcohol, or are in possession of a weapon in the school setting or at a school related event will be suspended from school and automatically referred for a Superintendent’s Hearing for an extended out of school suspension. If a student is found to be in possession of an illegal substance of any quantity or a weapon, law enforcement personnel will be called and the student may be arrested at the school.
Yet, even with these consequences put in place, Hills West students still take the risks. However, many students are also unaware that these events are happening on school grounds. 57% of Hills West students surveyed said they do not know of anyone that has used marijuana or other illegal substances on school grounds. Yet, 71% still believe that it would be relatively easy to do so without getting caught.
“It is unfortunate that it occurs,” said Hills West Principal Dr. Catapano. Mr. Abrescia agreed, adding, “One [violation] is too many.” Some students, such as Hills West senior Arianna Bonifacio, shared their sentiment.
“I’m not okay with it,” she said, “I just don’t understand drug use [in general].” However, Bonifacio’s opinion tends to be uncommon. 57% of Hills West students approved of marijuana use for both recreational and medicinal purposes; 29% only approved of medicinal marijuana, and 14% did not approve of marijuana use at all. What is the originator of this new attitude? The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse also found that 75% of teens said that seeing pictures on social media of other teens partying and using substances such as marijuana encourages them to want to use it as well.
“They [students] think that marijuana-use is not a big deal,” said Hills West health teacher Mrs. Stiglitz, “which is very sad because it does not let the brain grow to its full potential. The brain does not fully develop until you’re in your twenties, and it deters brain growth. They don’t think about the long-term [effects].”
However, others think that recent legislation can be attributed to these attitudes.
“[Students have lessened their opposition to marijuana use] probably because they’ve passed a law and it’s become legal in other states,” said Hills West guidance counselor Mr. O’Boyle. According to The New York Times, a bill is currently moving through Congress that is proposing reductions in sentences for violations of drug laws, further showing the nation’s eroded apprehensions toward marijuana use.
“I don’t think more people are using it [marijuana] than before,” said Mr. O’Boyle, “you’re just hearing about it more. This can be a positive or a negative. If someone needs it medicinally, I’m all for it. I personally don’t use it. If people are putting others in danger by getting into a car, though, then I have a problem with it.” Mr. O’Boyle went on to say that students have come into his office in the past with some variation of a substance issue.
“I’m usually removed from the situation,” said Mr. O’Boyle, “Parents usually take their child out and seek outside treatment. I can’t say I’ve ever had someone with an abuse problem, but there are so many other signs. It happens more than you think.” Dr. Catapano confirmed that the police have been called to school in the past regarding substance-related issues; sources have added that sniffing dogs have been brought into the building on days in which school is not in session.
So, what can be done to conclude this issue? Mr. O’Boyle thinks not much.
“You’ll never get rid of it in my opinion,” he said, “it’s too much of a money-maker. They’re not going to get rid of it. As long as it’s available, students will bring it in.” Mrs. Stiglitz went on to say that her class can only do so much; students need to take it upon themselves to implement her lessons.
“We recognize that it is a great minority that use it [marijuana],” said Mr. Abrescia, “and we don’t want to paint a majority of the students with the same brush.” In addition, Dr. Catapano stressed the importance of drug education.
“Some students make poor decisions,” said Dr. Catapano, “but we will be continuing education about the pitfalls and repercussions [of drug-use].”