Students with controlled substances will get counseling

Del Norte public school officials are changing their approach in dealing with students who are caught with alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Superintendent Don Olson told the Del Norte County Board of Trustees on Thursday that rather than suspending a student for a substance abuse-related offense he or she will meet with school officials and county health officials to learn what resources are out there to help them quit.

Students who come to school under the influence will be sent home, and the sale of drugs will continue to be grounds for immediate expulsion, Olson said. But those caught possessing alcohol, marijuana, tobacco or other drugs will stay in school and their parents will be notified of the intervention program offered in lieu of suspension.

This will also be used as a way of curbing the district's suspension rate, which is twice the state average, Olson said. According to the California Department of Education, 366,629 students (5.7 percent) statewide were suspended in 2011andndash;12.

"The school piece will be group meetings," Olson said, adding that Holly Wendt with the Del Norte County Department of Public Health will be working with the students. "As for older students, we're going to be giving them a short research assignment as the first assignment. So we're really trying to educate students as well, and after they've had time to do the work we'll follow up and really collaborate as a group."

The intervention meetings are scheduled to take place on Nov. 8, Olson said. So far, two students at the middle school level and 10 high school students will participate in the first meetings.

Olson said the intervention meetings were originally to be held on Friday, but the district decided to meet with parents in addition to students. Those meetings will take place over the next two weeks. So far, he said, parent response has been positive.

"I've spoken to over 10 on the phone," he said. "They're all appreciative of trying a different pathway to assist students other than just applying suspension and then return to school and nothing else happens. They said, 'Thank you for doing this.'"

Board members and parents initially reacted skeptically to the district's plans. Amy Owen, whose son goes to Bess Maxwell Elementary School, said she remembers as a high school student places her peers would go to smoke without the teacher's knowledge. She suggested the school look into closing those areas where students could hide.

Another parent, who didn't give her name, said she was concerned because it appears the district is being more lenient on students who bring drugs or alcohol to school to lower its suspension rate.

"Suspend them," she said. "Let them know you're not playing around."

Olson said if the student has gone through an intervention and is caught with drugs or alcohol again, the second offense will be dealt with more severely.

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