Columbus schools see increase in drug-related incidents

January 28, 2014 10:47:18 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


Drug incidents are up on five of nine city school campuses, including an elementary school, according to statistics recently released by the Columbus Municipal School District. 


Overall, the number of drug-related incidences has increased from 11 in the 2008-2009 school year to 29 in the 2012-2013 school year. Three of those 29 were at Cook Elementary School, according to the report. 


At Columbus High School, the number of drug-related incidents rose from seven in 2008-2009 to 18 in 2012-2013. So far, 16 drug-related incidents have occurred in the current school year. 


The report claims the reason incidents have increased is due to staff awareness. 


Anthony Brown, CMSD's federal programs director, said he doesn't see the increased number as a sign that students are using more drugs at school. Thanks to special training and teacher awareness, school staffers are more aware of what to look for, he said. 


"We actually catch more people than perhaps we would have caught in the past," Brown said. "When you implement training, you're going to see an increase in any kind of misbehavior because you put your teachers on notice." 


According to the district handbook, "Possession (actual or constructive) or use/consumption of illegal drugs within the Columbus Municipal School District shall result in an immediate ten (10) day out-of-school suspension and recommendation for expulsion." 


In practice, however, the first time a student is caught with drugs, they are suspended for five days. The second offense is an automatic 10-day suspension and recommendation for alternative school, Brown said. 


Each instance is judged on a case-by-case basis. 


"Principals are allowed to apply their professional judgment on a case-by-case basis in accordance with Miss. Code 37-11-18 in determining the actual punishment," Brown said. "Most expulsion recommendations are modified to placement at the Alternative School, depending on the circumstances of the individual case." 


The third offense brings about an expulsion. 


To prevent students from bringing drugs to school, the district has implemented Positive Behavior Intervention Support. Brown said with the program, each student knows what is expected of them, everyone's instructional program works for them and everyone is acknowledged for their efforts and accomplishments. 


According to the PBIS guidelines, each class is modified to fit the student's needs. PBIS is "changing the system to meet the needs of the student while also helping the student fit successfully in the system." 


Brown said the program is in place to identify children who are acting out and bringing drugs to school for a deeper reason than simply misbehaving. 


"A lot of time when you see misbehavior in schools it's an escape," Brown said. "We used to be told that it was a play for attention but with a lot of these kids it's an escape. They're not comfortable with the assignment, they're not comfortable with the teacher so they're not doing well and rather than going into a situation where they can be successful, they actually misbehave to escape that interaction. That changes how you intervene in a situation. If they're doing it for attention, you know there is certain things you can do but if they're doing it to escape, that suggests there are certain things that we've got to get better at like providing mediation for children. As they fall further and further in their reading level or their math skills, we know that eventually, that's going to show up as misbehavior in the classroom."

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.