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|Paynesville Press - March 13, 2002|
High school gets tougher on drugs
An upswing in drug use at the high school this year has principal John Janotta alarmed. Enough, so that in February, he raised the issue with the school board, warning that he planned to be more aggressive in dealing with the growing problem.|
"People are getting more bold," he told the board. "Consequently, we've been watching more, and we've had more busts."
There have already been a couple suspensions this year related to drugs, Janotta told the Press in a later interview, and more are possible, as are expulsions.
"The fact is there's an area of concern," said Janotta. "We need to alert everyone to what's happening. Everyone needs to take a good look, do their role, and make Paynesville and Paynesville schools a good place to be."
"We're going to be on our toes, and we're going to have staff on their toes," he added. "If we're going to err, we're not going to sit around and wonder. We're going to check it out."
This emphasis on investigating possible drug use was one of Janotta's prime motivations in informing the school board of the problem. He wanted to let the board members know that he planned to be aggressive and keep them aware of what was happening in case they heard any complaints from parents.
"You're not going to get the most out of your life if you're involved with drugs," Janotta explained. "It's as simple as that. Certainly, you're not going to get the most out of school."
Keeping drug use among PAHS students at less than state averages is something that Janotta aims to do.
One worry is that PAHS surpassed state averages for drug use in ninth grade males, while still being below state averages for ninth grade females and seniors of both genders.
A second worry is that local students were more likely to use alcohol than state averages, according to the survey, both as ninth graders and as seniors.
And a third worry are some troublesome statistics about drug use before, during, and after school. The survey reported that 22 percent of the males in last year's senior class had used drugs or alcohol, at least once, before coming to school. Janotta cited this statistic to the school board in February.
Higher percentages of both ninth grade males and females had ever used drugs or alcohol during school and immediately after school, too.
Paynesville is not alone in facing the problem of drug use, according to Paynesville Police Chief Tony Schmitt. "It's a community problem, county problem, state problem, and national problem. It's not just us," he said. "It's everywhere."
The students agreed that drugs are evident in school and available. "I would know how to get drugs before beer," said one student.
"I don't think there's a person in school who wouldn't know how to get it...who wouldn't know who to ask," agreed another student.
The availability of drugs does not shock Janotta, who pointed out that various law enforcement agencies found three meth labs in the area within a month just a year ago. "If people want it, they're going to find it," he said.
A wide variety of drugs are used these days, and they are stronger than in previous generations, Janotta said. Drug use includes marijuana, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, household inhalants, and more. "If you can imagine it, it's here," said one student.
Just as the statistics indicate, the students' viewpoint is that drug use is more common in males than females. And, echoing the one statistic where PAHS surpassed the state averages, their impression was use was growing in the younger grades at PAHS. "Last year's seniors would party on weekends and drink," said one upperclassman. "Now you see freshmen and sophomores smoking dope before school."
Since they felt that drug use at PAHS happens in secluded spots while most everyone else is occupied with class, they proposed more patrolling of the halls, bathrooms, lockerrooms, and remote areas of the school buildings and campus during class periods.
They agreed that it was too easy to get out of class. Not just study hall, but regular class periods, using excuses like going to the bathroom, going to the office, or going to the nurse's office.
(The Press gave a list of these suggestions to Janotta last week, who already has shared them with the high school teachers at a staff meeting. "The hallways are already better," he said, "after one meeting of talking about it.")
They proposed having smoke detectors in selected areas of the school, and Janotta has already found a possible vendor for hidden smoke detectors.
The students expressed a community need for better recreational facilities, especially things that would attract youth like a skateboard park, bike track, and swimming pool. "I think if there were more things to do in this town there'd be less people who'd use drugs or alcohol," said one student.
Parents need to provide better supervision, they stressed. Parents should trust their kids until they prove unworthy, but parents still need be observant and aware.
One suggestion, which many of them said they hate personally, was parents providing their child with a cell phone and calling them every half hour to check on where they're going and what they're doing.
Parents need to communicate with their children, agreed Schmitt. "Find out what's going on in their lives," he said.
Danger signs that parents should watch closely, according to Schmitt, are slipping grades, change in friends, appetite changes, mood changes, change in personal appearance, school attendance, and financial habits. "Sometimes parents are the last to know," he said. "If they really are paying close attention to their children, they'll suspect something earlier."
Parents can have their son or daughter tested if they suspect drug use. Drug tests are available at the Paynesville Area Health Care System.
"I think a lot of parents know," said one student. "They just don't want to admit it."
Parents also need to be proactive, especially these days. The current high school students said pressure for alcohol and drugs really hit when they got in ninth grade, and might be earlier now. This means parents need to communicate with their kids while in the middle school to be preventative.
Know the Signs
Drop in academic performance.
She works at PAHS on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and takes referrals from staff, parents, and students. She also gets involved when a student's chemical use leads to an infraction with the Minnesota State High School League.
The adage that high school are the best years of your life is not always true, warned McLane. "We think students don't have a lot of stress, but it is stressful," she explained.
She believes that chemical use is a personal choice. "'There's nothing to do in Paynesville.' I hear that over and over," she said, with little sympathy. "They can do the same things sober."
Getting that message across is increasing in importance at PAHS. Paynesville has had its share of tragedy in the past, Janotta noted, and he hopes the community can address this problem before it comes to any of that.
"It seems too often it takes a crisis to make positive things happen," he said, "but then those parents move on and we need another tragedy to learn the hard lessons."
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