More Drugs, Danger at Schools

More Drugs, Danger at Schools
Posted by FoM on March 01, 2000 at 08:12:37 PT
By Marijke Rowland, Bee Staff 
Source: Modesto Bee
 As news of yet another fatal school shooting hit the nation, California unveiled its annual public school crime report revealing increased violence and drug problems.  The Department of Education released the 1998-99 California Safe Schools Assessment results today. Though there were only two homicides -- both in Southern California -- other crimes such as battery and drug/alcohol offenses rose statewide. 
 While some of that growth could be due to better reporting, state officials said the increases are still troubling.  "We will do everything we can to ensure that our schools provide the safest possible learning environment for our students," said state school Superintendent Delaine Eastin. "Our children need to be able to learn without distraction, harassment or intimidation."  The rates for crimes against persons -- including battery, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery/extortion and sex offenses -- were up 7 percent from the previous year. Rates for those crimes went from 3.74 per 1,000 students in 1997-98 to 4.02 per 1,000 students in 1998-99.  Rates for drug and alcohol offenses -- included possession of drugs, paraphernalia, sale and use -- jumped 11 percent, from 3.55 to 3.94 per 1,000 students.  The statistics did have a bright spot with the continued four- year decline in property crime. Rates for those offenses -- vandalism, theft, burglary and graffiti -- were down 8 percent, dropping from 4.47 to 4.12 per 1,000 students.  Locally, most Northern San Joaquin counties followed the state's upward trend for drug/ alcohol offenses and property crimes. Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Tuolumne also saw increases in rates for violent crimes. Only Mariposa County saw a drop in its substance-abuse related incident rates.  Stanislaus County's rates for drugs/alcohol, violent and property crimes were all higher than the statewide rates. County schools saw a 2.5 percent increase in its violent crimes rate. The drug and alcohol offense rate was up 5 percent.  Modesto City Schools accounted for more than half of the incidents of battery and other violent crimes in the county. But Sharon Burnis, associate superintendent of administrative and pupil services, said those numbers do not tell the real story.  "We obviously feel our schools are safe," Burnis said, "and I have to believe from the response from the community that they do, too. These numbers don't say that our schools are unsafe."  The Department of Education has schools report their own crime information each summer. Many local administrators believe therein lies the system's crucial flaw. Discrepancies in which incidents are reported from district to district can skew the numbers.  Burnis said Modesto City Schools has a strict policy of uncovering and reporting incidents. As a result, the school district has higher rates for battery and drug offenses than even large urban schools like Oakland Unified.  "Some of these (districts) you look at that say one or zero incidents are very interesting," she said. "They didn't have one student with drugs or in a fight? Not one student?"  Administrators warn that in categories like battery, where reporting is often a judgment call, the rates can be misleading.  The Empire Union Elementary district saw a sharp drop in battery rates. Deputy superintendent John Berry said some of that can be attributed to stringent zero-tolerance policies. But, he said, the rest is probably due to reporting.  Districts like Manteca Unified saw their rates move in the other direction thanks to recording. The Manteca battery rate took a leap from from 1.9 to 11.58 per 1,000 students. Overall, San Joaquin County's violent crime rate rose 2.5 percent.  "Our numbers have not changed, but our reporting has," said Janice Hafley, administrator for child welfare and attendance at Manteca Unified. "When we look at individual suspensions, our numbers are not up."  Some of the drug- and alcohol-related increases may also be inflated because of reporting changes. For the first time, the state required possession of marijuana paraphernalia to be recorded.  Still, officials said the dramatic increase in paraphernalia rates, 73 percent statewide, indicates a greater problem. In Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, drug/ alcohol rates were up 28.4 and 40.8 percent respectively.  Merced Union High School district saw its substance-offense rates go up 19.6 percent. Merced County's overall rate grew by 16.2 percent.  Joe Brucia, public safety director for Merced Union, said the problems with drugs and alcohol are even more epidemic than violence.  "Many times a student with a weapon like a knife just made a bad decision that one time," he said. "But if a student is doing marijuana or cocaine, they just can't stop."  Still, officials said the report should be taken in perspective. The actual numbers of all incidents -- drugs, violence, property damage -- remains relatively small for a state school system with 5.8 million students.  "We have always consider schools safe havens," Brucia said. "When you read in the newspaper all the time about these crimes, most of them are not on school grounds." Published: March 1, 2000Copyright  The Modesto Bee. Related Articles:Laws Can Help Schools Fight Drugs, Expert Says Testing Policies a Tool for Public Schools
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