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Just Say 'Go' : Downey Schools Wage War on Drug Use With Wave of Expulsions

November 20, 1986|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

A toughened anti-drug policy has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Downey Unified School District students being expelled in the program's first two years, and there are no signs the trend will soon change, officials say.

The number of students expelled for drug use reached an all-time high last year, when 86 students were expelled, and this year is following suit, district Deputy Supt. A. H. Shiney said earlier this week.

As part of its campaign against drugs, the district began requiring expulsion hearings for first-offense drug possession during the 1984-1985 school year. Previously, many of those cases were handled by individual schools and resulted in suspension, but not expulsion from a school or, more seriously, from the district, Shiney said.

The change in district policy satisfied state law, which in 1983 began requiring a recommendation of expulsion and a hearing for all students caught with drugs, said Lillie Wilson, a consultant with the Los Angeles County office of education.

DARE, Project Impact

The tough policy is part of a multi-pronged effort recently embraced by the district to curb substance abuse on campus. The campaign includes DARE, a program to teach elementary students to resist pressures to use drugs, and Project Impact, a drug intervention program for the district's middle and high schools.

"It's going to take quite a while to see the impact of these programs," Shiney said. "We certainly hope to see these numbers come down."

The number of hearings and expulsions for drug offenses rose dramatically after the new policy went into effect.

There were 17 expulsions for drug offenses during the 1983-84 school year. There were 81 during the 1984-85 school year, the first year the policy was in force, and 86 last year.

So far this year, there have been 12 hearings for drug offenses and 8 expulsions, about the same pace as last year, Shiney said. The other four cases will be decided in December.

Repeat Offenders Decline

Students usually are expelled for furnishing drugs or for a second offense, he said.

The number of repeat drug offenders declined from 10 during the 1984-85 school year to four last year.

"I think the effectiveness is the low number of students who repeat with the same offense," Shiney said.

Nearly half of the students expelled during the past two school years were expelled from the district, while the others were allowed to return to their schools or transferred to others in the district. A suspension is usually shorter than an expulsion and doesn't remain on a student's academic record.

In many cases, students are required to seek outside counseling as a condition of their return to their school or the district, Shiney said.

"In most instances (school board members) feel they're doing it in the total interest of the school program," said Shiney, who added that a drug dealer or user on campus endangers other students. The toughened policy was applauded and criticized by students this week at Downey High.

Innocent Contact

"People I know would be using more (drugs) it it weren't for that rule," said Student Council President Chris Baumann, 17, a senior. But Baumann said the rule could result in a hearing for a student who innocently had come into contact with drugs.

Billy Solis, a 16-year-old junior, said anyone caught with drugs should be expelled from the district, but he questioned the effectiveness of the rule.

"They still do it (take drugs) anyway," he said. "I don't think they'll ever get rid of drugs, but at least they're trying."

The district's ongoing anti-substance-abuse programs teach students to resist peer and societal pressures to use drugs, and try to curb drug and alcohol abuse through counseling before students are caught with drugs.

Earlier this week, Downey Police Officer Jodi Barb stood in front of a fifth-grade class at Gallatin Elementary School and lectured about the glamorization of alcohol and drug use in films and television programs, and in broadcast and print advertising.

"What's one of the risks if you take drugs?" Barb asked the class.

'You Could Die'

"You could die," answered Tim Meadows.

"You could get in trouble with your mom and dad," said Carrie Fendley, another fifth-grader.

Barb is the DARE program's first instructor. The Downey Police Department and school district started the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program this year. Originated by the Los Angeles Police Department and city school district in 1983, the program focuses on teaching grade-school children how to resist peer pressure to use drugs, Barb said.

Barb, a six-year officer, will have taught the 17-week program to every fifth-grade class in the district's 10 elementary schools by year's end.

"We get them before they get much peer pressure to use drugs and hopefully before they've used drugs," Barb said. "We role play and help them learn different techniques to say no."

The district is in its second year of Project Impact.

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