Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative Board members learned what a Schuylkill County group is doing to combat drugs and alcohol in its school district.
During the monthly meeting of the collaborative on Wednesday, the board welcomed Mike Evans, a social worker; and Eleanor Sanayka, director of special education, both members of the North Schuylkill School District. The pair talked about the Spartan Task Force, a group created to help "develop a proactive response to drug and alcohol related issues and concerns" in the schools.
The task force was developed in 2006 and has grown to include county agencies that deal with everything from drugs and alcohol and youth services to law enforcement and the courts.
Evans explained that before the task force was developed, the school officials observed that it had a growing issue with students using drugs and alcohol at a young age.
At one point, Evans explained, the school had 16 expulsions in one year that were drug related.
After the task force was created, a proactive program was put into place to try and lower these figures.
A random drug testing policy for all students participating in an activity such as holding a parking permit at the school, taking part in a sport or going to the school prom was adopted in 2007 and cost the district around $80,000. Since then, they have secured and used a three-year grant that covers all of the program's costs. This grant ends in June.
Evans noted that in 2007, the school tested 872 students for drugs. Of those 13 tested positive and five complied with the school's treatment method. In 2008, 1,159 students were tested, 11 were positive and nine complied with treatment; in 2009, 1,539 students tested and 14 were positive, four complied; and so far in this school year, 616 were tested and 11 tested positive. Seven of those complied with treatment.
He explained that if a student tests positive for a first time, they are suspended for 45 days and treatment is recommended. A second offense is 90 days suspension and a third offense is all activity privileges are revoked for the remainder of the student's school career.
Sanayka noted that a surprising fact that the majority of the drug problems were found in the seventh, eighth and ninth grade students. Since the policy was implemented, the majority of the student body has joined the testing pool voluntarily so that they can participate in activities.
The pair added that the school did have to change the way samples were collected because students would hide drug-free urine on themselves.
A second policy that is helping combat issues at the school is a dress code.
The policy helped cut down on some bullying because students were dressed similarly.
Sanayka also explained that the task force made the program three-pronged, outreaching to students and parents; as well as creating a safe environment at the school.
In addition to random drug testing and a dress code, the group has outreached to parents by holding classes to educate them on signs and ways to combat drug and alcohol use in children. They also started organizing after-school activities for students to participate in such as fashion and talent shows.
Elementary students were also included in the program to help high school students realize how bad choices affect everyone.
At prom time, they ask elementary students to write something to a high school student about being safe at the prom.
Billboards using actual students are also placed around the area of the school.
Following Evans and Sanayka's presentation, the collaborative members asked several questions about the task force and how they can successfully implement one in Carbon County. Currently, a task force is in the process of organizing within the county. It will deal with drugs and alcohol; as well as mental health issues in students.
In December, the collaborative adopted a statement making the county aware that these issues are a growing problem in the county and that they plan to work toward changing these statistics.
Carbon County Commissioners also adopted the collaboratives statement and supports all efforts.