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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Schools in County Reported Among Safest

Education: Students were more likely to commit drug or alcohol offenses, but not to be robbed or assaulted, according to statistics compiled by the state.

March 01, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although Ventura County campuses remained safer than their counterparts statewide for the fourth consecutive year, local students were more likely than others in California to commit drug or alcohol crimes, according to a report being released today by the state Department of Education.

In the 1998-99 school year, students were less likely to be robbed, sexually assaulted or attacked than those elsewhere in California. But 4.19% of students--one in every 25--possessed, sold or used drugs or alcohol at schools in Ventura County, compared with 3.94% of students statewide.

"Our communities are safer than other communities in the state," Ventura County schools Supt. Chuck Weis said. "But even in safe communities, kids drink and do drugs. We need to double our efforts in drug and alcohol prevention. If we don't work on prevention, we will forever be providing rehab."

The most common drug in schools is marijuana, local officials said. There were about 16% more drug and alcohol offenses in the last school year than the previous year. Statewide, the number of such offenses increased by about 11%.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 2, 2000 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Zones Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
School crime--An article Wednesday on the California Safe Schools Assessment Report contained incorrect information. The rate of alcohol and drug offenses among Ventura County students is 4.19 per 1,000 compared to 3.94 per 1,000 students statewide.

County school administrators need to come up with cost-effective ways to address students' substance-abuse problems, Weis said.

"It's a never-ending battle to prevent these types of behaviors," he said.

While there were fewer crimes in local schools when compared with the rest of the state, crime countywide increased in almost all categories over the last year. Of 134,275 students in Ventura County, 562 were reported for drug and alcohol offenses, 248 for battery and 141 for possession of a weapon. There were 21 sex offenses and 18 assaults with a deadly weapon. There were five robberies, the only category of crime to decrease in Ventura County.

This is the fourth year of the California Safe Schools Assessment report. By law, school districts are required to report the safety statistics to state officials, who verify and compile them.

During the 1998-99 school year, 537 property crimes--such as graffiti or vandalism--cost Ventura County districts $264,068. That's about $50,000 more than schools spent the year before to clean up campuses.

*

Not surprisingly, the greatest number of property crimes were reported in the two largest districts: Simi Valley Unified had 171 and Conejo Valley Unified had 118. But there were only 22 in Ventura Unified, the third-largest district.

Oxnard Union High School District had 16 property crimes, half as many as the previous year. Supt. Bill Studt said that's because there are more campus supervisors, more school resource officers and more surveillance cameras at the high schools.

Students know that they are going to get caught if they spray graffiti on campus, he said. The district also holds parents accountable when students deface the schools.

The 14,000-student district also reported fewer sex offenses and assaults with a deadly weapon. And there were about 21% fewer drug and alcohol crimes committed in 1998-99 than the previous year. But the Oxnard district--the only all high school district in the county--had the highest percentage of drug and alcohol offenses.

"It was better, but we still have too many," Studt said. "We've got a lot of work to do. We are always looking for [drugs] and encouraging kids not to get involved."

Studt said he expects heightened counseling efforts and drug-sniffing dogs to further reduce the number of substance-abuse crimes.

Several districts reported significant increases in the number of students selling, using or possessing drugs or alcohol.

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In Ventura Unified, 76 students were reported for drug or alcohol offenses in the 1998-99 school year, up from 30 the previous year. In Simi Valley Unified, the number of reports jumped from 25 to 70.

And in Oxnard Elementary, 21 students were reported for drug or alcohol offenses in the 1998-99 school year, up from six the previous year.

Oxnard Elementary Supt. Richard Duarte said his district plans to take a good look at some of the classroom programs that target drug and alcohol prevention, particularly at the middle school level.

"We are trying to prevent substance-abuse problems as early as we can," he said.

Educators say the safe schools report is helpful, but that the numbers are sometimes misleading. For example, there was a 75% increase in the number of weapons possessions in the 7,400-student Moorpark Unified--up to nine from five the previous year.

The increase in crimes may have to do with more vigilant reporting, educators said. And in the drug and alcohol category, the increases may be due to a change that included possession of marijuana paraphernalia as a reportable incident.

Dennis Carter, Simi Valley's director of student support services, said he thinks that the numbers are higher because districts are focusing more on drug and alcohol offenses than before.

"There is more attention being paid to kids at risk and kids who might be using drugs," he said.

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