Expulsions for pot surge in District 51

Drug-related expulsions have declined each year since 2010-11 in District 51. But data about expulsions in the first few months of this school year indicate that trend may reverse itself in 2013-14.

Expulsions for drugs have increased from 11 between the start of the school year and Oct. 31, 2012, to 19 between the start of this school year and Oct. 31, 2013, according to numbers presented to the school board Tuesday. All 19 of those expulsions have been for marijuana offenses, according to District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon.

Students can be expelled for drugs if they are caught for a second time using or possessing illegal drugs or if they are caught for the first time trying to sell drugs at school.

The increase in drug-related expulsions, though there are months to go in the school year, is a cause of concern for District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz. Schultz said he is particularly concerned that the district is seeing students offend for a second time more than a year into a new program that allows students to choose a suspension of up to five days or opt for a shortened suspension of three days for a first-time drug offense. In order to get a shortened suspension, students have to agree to be evaluated by Mind Springs Health and go to Saturday school if it’s determined they do not have an addiction problem or attend a 12-week counseling program if they do have a problem. One hundred twelve students were screened through the program last year.

Nearby parks

Schultz said he’s not sure if statewide medical marijuana laws or the legalization of marijuana use for Coloradans who are at least 21 years old have played a role in the increased number of suspensions.

“The cause is yet to be determined. It’s a trend around the state. Clearly kids are talking about getting it” easily, Schultz said.

District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen said law enforcement and teachers trained to recognize signs of drug use have helped improve detection on school grounds, but it’s hard for school officials to do much to curb drug use in areas close to schools, including Long Family Memorial Park west of Central High School and Sherwood Park west of Grand Junction High School. Larsen said there’s a “manpower issue” for school staff to spread themselves out to these areas.

“Right now, legally we cannot keep (students) from going to the park” and using drugs during school hours, Larsen said.

DEA help

Leon said law enforcement officers are patrolling areas like Long Family Memorial Park, Sherwood Park and the Maverik by Fruita Monument High School but they only have so many employees to spread out as well.

School board member Jeff Leany suggested the district seek information from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Leon said he has spoken with DEA employees and was informed they could make one-time presentations at schools but are not available for long-term programming, such as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).


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