Christopher Rosacker
crosacker@theunion.com

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December 27, 2012
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Marijuana No. 1 drug-related school suspension at high schools


As California’s cultural acceptance of marijuana relaxes in western Nevada County where plenty of people grow the drug, schools are having a harder time convincing students to stay sober in class.

“How do you convince them there is something wrong with them when everyone in their family is doing it?” asked Linda Grotke, who runs the local high school district’s STudent Assistance Resources & Services (STARS), which includes a drug diversion program.

“All they know is all the money that goes into that household is coming from that drug,” Grotke said.

During the 2010-11 school year, 133 of the district’s 2,065 suspensions were drug related, according to Nevada Joint Union High School District staff.

As the district’s enrollment has dropped, those proportions have increased.

During the 2011-12 school year, there were 170 drug-related suspensions. So far, the 2012-13 school year has seen more than 80 drug-related suspensions, as of the end of the fall semester.

“Alcohol and marijuana are the two biggies,” Grotke said. “They are overwhelmingly marijuana. It’s got to be 80 percent pot.”

Officials in neighboring school districts, such as Roseville and Oroville, also said that the majority of their drug-related suspensions were marijuana related.

“As the culture has been more and more infused with ‘It is OK to be doing this,’ I think it has gotten worse because culturally the kids are more accepting of it,” Grotke said. “They think it’s just weed. That there is nothing wrong with it because it’s natural.”

There is an average of approximately 11 suspensions per 100 students in California, about half of those incidents are nonviolent, nondrug related incidents, according to Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California.

When a western Nevada County student at the district’s two main comprehensive high schools, Bear River or Nevada Union, is found intoxicated or in possession of drugs or alcohol on campus or during school hours, they are suspended and placed in the district’s drug diversion program.

“We do not have purview outside, other than during the school day,” said Trisha Dellis, an assistant superintendent.

“We’re realistic. We know we won’t necessarily stop their usage out in their lives. Our push is that our schools are going to be drug free. We don’t want it here.”

Community Recovery Resources (CoRR), a nonprofit organization that has been providing services for substance abuse treatment and related behavioral health disorders throughout the Sierra Nevada since 1974, runs the drug diversion program.

Drug suspension students are required to meet for an hour
and a half once a week for an eight-week drug diversion session.

“We start with an acuity evaluation to determine how frequently they use,” Grotke said, adding that heavy drug users are sent to CoRR for further treatment.

During weeks one, four and eight, those students are tested for drug use. To complete the program, students must test negative on the last two of those tests.

If a student fails, an expulsion process is initiated and parents, counselors and school administration sit down with the student to determine the next steps.

Expelled students are usually sent to the district’s Silver Springs High School.

“If kids fail in the school environment, they end up becoming clients of the criminal justice system in too many instances,” said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal.

While in the drug diversion program, students engage in discussions with counselors and other students, reflect in journals and sometimes watch informational videos.

“During the eight weeks, they are going to get offered and we want to teach them how to say no,” Grotke said. “We give them ready excuses: ‘I’m getting tested and I can’t do it.’ That is what they need the most help with teaching them how to say no gracefully without losing their friends or worse.”

Success is measured by how many students complete the eight-week program and repeat offenses, Grotke said. Over half to three-quarters of the students have completed the course over the last four to five years. Repeat offenders typically only represent 3-5 percent.

“They are very receptive to services,” Grotke said. “Very rarely do they stonewall us.”

All in-season district athletes also submit themselves to random drug tests by CoRR, Dellis said. Athletes who test positive are suspended from the team for 30 days and begin a process of working back to eligibility.

“We’re big believers that being part of their sport is really important to their connection to the school,” Dellis said.

“We don’t want to kick them off the team forever. So they go through drug diversion and a process to get back on the team.”

The district’s drug diversion program is not common, Dellis said. Most district simply suspend a student until expulsion.

In addition to CoRR, Nevada County Behavioral Health, sober youth group NEO and R.E.A.C.H. family counseling also partner to help suspended students.

“We have a lot of different agencies that support us as a district,” Dellis said.

Funding for the program came from a four-year, $6.5 million federal grant set to expire next year. But Grotke said CoRR is committed to maintaining the program.

“It can’t go away,” Grotke said. “It won’t go away.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

“Our push is that our schools are going to be drug free. We don’t  want it here.”
— Trisha Dellis, an assistant superintendent


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The Union Updated Dec 27, 2012 04:37PM Published Dec 28, 2012 02:34PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.