The marching band's drummers pa-rump-ump-ump-pummed across the quad. The choir trooped through the corridors singing "Deck the Halls." It was the last day of classes before Christmas vacation at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, and for the most part the student body seemed charged with good cheer. But along with all the chatter about presents and parties, a less festive topic arose wherever students gathered to talk.
Two days earlier, Principal Jack Kennedy had announced over the school's P.A. system that at 6:30 that morning Huntington Beach police had arrested 19 juveniles and four young adults on drug charges, the result of a 2 1/2-month undercover operation in which an unidentified 20-year-old female police cadet, posing as an Edison student, had purchased cocaine, marijuana and LSD from Edison students. By Friday, students' opinions about the sting operation seemed to have congealed, while rumors about the incident flourished.
"I think it's good," one 17-year-old football player said of the sting during a class break. The student, like the majority of athletes (and coaches and administrators), has agreed to have his name put into a pool from which volunteers will be drawn periodically to undergo urinalysis tests for drugs. "We're cleaning our act up with our drug tests. . . . If it takes this to clean their act up, I think its good," he said, adding that he had no qualms about someone posing as a student to root out drug dealing.
"The kids don't really know who the undercover persons on campus are. I think it's going to help because they'll always be afraid of someone else (another agent) being on campus," he said.
A 14-year-old named Erica was also blunt in her support of using a pseudo student to infiltrate the campus. "It doesn't bother me. It worked. They got 'em," she said.
But an 18-year-old, Pam Leonard, while enthusiastic about the idea of getting rid of drug dealers at Edison, remained ambivalent about the ethics of having a police cadet falsely present herself as a student.
"It's kind of like they tried to trick us," she said. "It's not really fair, 'cause you like to think you have a working relationship with adults, and when they try to trick you into something, you lose your trust in them."
Still, reflecting what seemed to be the prevalent opinion on campus, Leonard said that the drug problem probably justified the school's approach. "If it works, I think they should do it," she said. "The most effective way might not be the best way or the nicest."
"I was very glad this thing happened," observed Armelle La Fonte, a 17-year-old exchange student from Paris, as another student grappled with a classmate, shouting, "Hey, I caught a drug dealer."
'Not as Free as Here'
"In France, the police wouldn't have dared to do such a thing," La Fonte continued. "Here drugs seem to be a way of life. In France, drug (use) is still something you hide--it's not as free as here."
Several students worried that the drug arrests would hurt their alma mater's reputation, and a few mentioned a remark by Huntington Beach Police Lt. Barry Price--quoted in the press after the incident--that "in all fairness" Edison is "the cleanest" high school in the district.
"If there's that big of a problem here, it's scary to wonder what it's like on other campuses," said Tamara, 15.
John Napier, an English teacher, said he had conducted a poll of opinions about the arrests in his classes. "The vast majority approved. I felt the students were really behind it," Napier said. But he mentioned also another poll he had taken in his classes which school administrators might find less heartening.
"I asked how many thought they could buy drugs the next day. Half of them raised their hands," Napier said. "I had all of them arrested," he joked.
Comments From the Field
At "smokers field," an area just outside the school fence where Edison students congregate between classes to talk and some to smoke, some students thought that there might be temporary difficulty in finding drugs at Edison. But there was general agreement that the arrests had not wiped out drug dealing on campus.
"I could find (drugs), right now, anything I wanted," said one 15-year-old.
"Easy . . . ," a girl chimed in.
"No problem. Within the hour," the 15-year-old said, pointing at the brick buildings and prefab classrooms on the campus. "Any drug I wanted. Cocaine, marijuana, speed. . . . Drugs for kids our age are easier to get than alcohol."