CAMDEN, Maine — It has been a seven-month process, but the school district here has sculpted a new drug policy to catch students who are experimenting with gateway drugs and to get them help quickly. The school board is expected to vote on the new policy Wednesday.
“We don’t want to have the same policy next year as we have this year,” Piet Lammert , the assistant high school principal, said during a school policy meeting Friday in the district’s administrative building in Camden.
Lammert said the new rules are more “user-friendly” for students and provide allowances for students who seek help or are honest about their drug use.
“The current policy puts kids in the position that they might not be honest because of the consequences,” Lammert said. “[Now] we allow a kid to say, ‘I have a problem.’”
For the most part, the consequences for drug use are the same in the new policy as in the old one. The biggest exception is for students in extracurricular activities; those students who report using drugs will be allowed to stay on the team or in the club provided they attend practices or club meetings, but they won’t be able to actively participate for 15 days. A member of the chess club, for instance, would watch her friends play, but would not get to touch a pawn in a club game for 15 days.
The policy change was spurred by a number of drug-related suspensions and also student comments. It’s an aggressive plan that will dovetail with the school district’s hiring of a substance abuse counselor earlier this year — a move Five Town Consolidated School District Superintendent Wayne Dorr called “a lifeline.” The district serves Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport.
“There is a fairly pervasive use of drugs — marijuana and alcohol — in the high school,” Dorr said Friday. “When I leave [this job] in July and look back on what we’ve done here, this is what I’ll look back at. It’s a biggie.”
Dorr plans to step down from his position after the school year. The new drug policy, if passed by the school board, will be implemented next fall.
Dorr said that although students seem to try marijuana and alcohol, Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport is not seeing a use of harder drugs. This new policy and the new in-school drug counselor are designed to help those students experimenting with gateway drugs.
Camden Hills Regional High School recently reported that 80 percent of its 12th-graders have drunk alcohol, and more than half of the students have smoked marijuana. The information, which comes from a 2010 statewide poll of high school students, also indicated that 20 percent of Camden Hills 12th-graders had abused prescription drugs and used hallucinogens. About 10 percent of those polled said they had used cocaine.
The information aligns with statewide trends. According to 2009 data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, Camden Hills Regional High School surpassed state averages only in alcohol use — about 75 percent of 12th-graders statewide said they drink or have drunk alcohol, compared with 80 percent at Camden Hills.
“This is not the hotbed of drug use. It’s not. We just want to make sure kids are safe and educated,” Dorr said. “We responded before it became a big issue.”