Drug suspensions in Abbotsford public high schools are at their highest level in five years, according to a report released this week by the school district’s substance abuse task force.
The task force reported at Monday’s board of education meeting that drug suspensions for the first eight months of the 2011/12 school year were at 160 – up 33 per cent from all of the previous school year, when they were at about 120.
The number of drug suspensions was also at about 120 in 2008, compared to 130 in 2009 and 70 in 2010.
Trustee Rhonda Pauls speculated that the numbers could be up this year because of more focus on the issue by school administrators and staff.
Yale Secondary principal Jay Pankratz, a member of the task force, disagreed. He said staff have used the same approach in the last five years to handle any drug issues involving students.
“But we have really seen an increase in usage, (especially among) younger kids. Ninth grade boys are off the charts this year,” he said.
The report also cited a survey conducted at Clayburn Middle School, showing that students are experimenting with drugs as young as Grade 6.
Alcohol, marijuana and tobacco continue to be the top substances used by teens, followed in smaller proportions by ecstasy, inhalants and crystal meth.
The task force was formed three months ago in the wake of several ecstasy deaths in the province, including two in Abbotsford.
The 12-person committee consisted of staff from local schools and representatives from the District Parents’ Advisory Council, the Abbotsford Police Department and community agencies.
Their report concluded the school district has already implemented several effective policies and programs, but more work is needed.
Their top recommendation is that the district hire an administrator to oversee school safety, school completion and “social responsibility” initiatives, including those related to substance abuse.
Robert Bateman Secondary principal Jinder Sarowa, who headed the task force, said this would ensure that programs are consistent across the district.
The other top five recommendations are:
– provide a common drug-education, prevention and problem-solving curriculum across the district;
– conduct a survey of students about their substance use;
– align training and practices for school drug and alcohol youth care workers;
– hire two “engagement workers,” one to liaise with students and one for parents; and
– expand the YMCA alternate suspension program to the west side of Abbotsford.
The board of education made no decisions on the recommendations, pending the presentation of an implementation plan at a later date.