West Allegheny to take new steps against drugs
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Drug-sniffing dogs and more watchful school staffers are among the measures the West Allegheny School District plans to combat a growing problem with students using drugs and alcohol.
A group of 14 parents expressed their concerns and asked for help from the school district at the Sept. 21 school board meeting.
Superintendent John DiSanti said the district will employ canine searches in the middle and high schools, increase staff alertness, work with local law enforcement and community leaders, look at toughening its drug and alcohol policy and consider the possibility of random drug testing -- a measure supported by the parent group.
"We're going to be more vigilant," Mr. DiSanti said.
Dogs are permitted to sniff-search lockers and vehicles on school property without prior notice, according to the middle school and high school parent-student handbooks.
Canine searches are to be introduced this school year, the manuals say.
Random drug testing is legal when a student drives to school or participates in extracurricular activities, Mr. DiSanti said, but such aggressive measures could only be taken if the community expresses strong support for them.
All the parents at the board meeting raised their hands when asked if they supported random drug testing.
At the football game Friday, the district took some actions to curb student drinking by prohibiting open containers in the stadium, requiring students to enter through one gate and increasing the number of school personnel present, Mr. DiSanti said.
School staff and police officers were asked to be observant and increase their visibility among students, he said.
"There were no incidents, and the kids were great," Mr. DiSanti said Monday.
At the school board meeting, parents referred to a student appearing intoxicated at a football game and said some students have been pressuring other kids to drink and use drugs.
They suggested more alcohol education, bag checks at events, adult mentoring and more cooperation among parents, administrators, coaches, teachers and police officers.
Teacher's union president Debbie Turici pledged collaboration with the district and community to help solve the problem.
Mr. DiSanti encouraged parents to alert school officials to any problems and said he planned to reach out to the local magistrate, police chiefs and community religious leaders. He said the district will conduct a student survey of drug and alcohol use.
The school board has been discussing how to boost the district's anti-drug efforts, President Debbie Mirich said.
"Your comments are very much taken to heart," she told the parents.
West Allegheny -- which covers Findlay, North Fayette and Oakdale -- operates a DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program for elementary pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade, for seventh grade in the middle school and for 10th grade in the high school. The district also hosts educational speakers and assemblies discouraging drunken driving.
"Unfortunately, for a lot people, that message is short-lived and it's not as effective as it needs to be," Mr. DiSanti said.
School board member Jeff O'Donnell, who is a Findlay policeman and DARE officer, said drugs and alcohol are the biggest issues facing kids today.
"The proactive approach is probably going to be the most effective," he said.
Mr. DiSanti said school officials are considering possible revisions to the drug and alcohol policy that could toughen penalties and expand rehabilitation procedures.
According to the school board's current policy on drug and alcohol use -- last updated in 1998 -- the possession and use of non-prescription drugs, controlled substances and alcoholic drinks are forbidden in the district, including school buildings, grounds and buses and also during all school-sponsored activities whether on or off school property.
The policy says a student possessing a personal amount of drugs, or found to be under the influence, is suspended up to 10 days and is assessed by a school counselor or rehabilitation facility. Police and parents are notified.
After the first offense, the student may face permanent expulsion.
The complete drug and alcohol use policy is posted at www.westasd.org.
First Published September 29, 2011 5:07 am