Wasted Blazers, wasted education

Nov. 11, 2004, midnight | By Clair Briggs | 16 years, 7 months ago

Many students under the influence go unnoticed

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

He first experimented with marijuana and alcohol as a freshman. By the end of ninth grade, he was a regular user. In tenth grade, he began to drink and smoke even more, and come summer he had dabbled in other drugs, including cocaine, mushrooms and painkillers. For Joe, breaking the law was of little concern and breaking school policy at the same time didn't even register. Now a junior, Joe has come to school intoxicated every single day this year.

Joe is an extreme but hardly unique case: According to an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 students on Oct. 26, 34 percent of Blazers have gone to class drunk or high. However, according to school records, only 32 students have been suspended for being intoxicated in school in the last two years"an indication that the majority of students are getting away with this serious offense.

Flaws in catching the culprits

Last year, social studies teacher Lansing Freeman had a student in class whom he suspected was high. According to Freeman, she was "wildly, inappropriately giggly." When security showed up at his classroom because of a suspected theft by that student, he mentioned his suspicions, and the girl was taken away.

But students are not always caught: At the beginning of the year, Joe was drunk in class and knocked over a stool several times, but the teacher never said a word. Another junior was high last year when he read the wrong passage aloud to his class; when his teacher corrected him, he repeated the same mistake. One senior, high on marijuana, had difficulty filling in the bubbles on the multiple-choice section of a test last spring. During lunch last year, a boy was high on mushrooms and began to talk to a soda machine. However, all of these students managed to get through the school day without being caught.

Steve Moreno, a substance abuse counselor who works with adolescents at Suburban Hospital, says that many teachers will not immediately suspect that a student is intoxicated unless the student shows typical symptoms like bloodshot eyes or smells of smoke or alcohol. Moreno says that symptoms are especially harder to see in students who have become increasingly tolerant to the substances they are using. "Some kids drink and smoke but still appear very normal," says Moreno.

Joe believes that people don't notice when he is high and jokes with his friends about a boy who recently started smoking marijuana. They call him a "rookie" because he is "still in that giggle stage," when the effects of marijuana are the strongest.

Yet social studies teacher Jake Lee believes he would be able to recognize if one of his students was drunk or high. "Sometimes kids can get away with it, but when you are with kids as much as we are as teachers, you can pick up in changes in how they act," he says.

If teachers believe a student is intoxicated or uses illegal substances, they may
refer students to the Montgomery County Student Assistance Program (MSAP), a program designed to identify and help adolescents who may have problems related to alcohol, drug use or violence.

However, some teachers feel that this is not part of their job requirements, according to ninth grade administrator Linda Wolf. "Some teachers have the attitude that they aren't there to be social workers or policeman; they are at school to teach," says Wolf.

But according to Mary, a senior who comes to school high on an average of once a week, students are not usually caught by teachers or referred to MSAP for acting drunk or high. They are caught, says Mary, when leaving school property to drink or smoke. Mary speaks from firsthand experience; she was suspended last year for possession of marijuana.

A risky business

Although intoxicated Blazers are getting through the school day unnoticed, if a student is found to be intoxicated or possessing an illegal substance in school, it is a serious offense. Blair's discipline policy states that these students will be suspended, referred to the Montgomery County police and required to enroll in a treatment program. If a student is thought to be distributing illegal substances, he or she will be recommended for expulsion. Outside of Blair, a person convicted of possession or the intent to distribute these substances can get a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

A track record for this offense will not be left behind after high school, either; most colleges ask their applicants to admit to any disciplinary action they have received in school. Colleges will not look favorably on students with that kind of history, according to guidance counselor Lynn Wood.

But for some kids, Lee believes, the extreme risks involved in attending school drunk or high are part of the reasons it is so appealing. "I think some kids think it's just one big joke," he says.

Joe comes to school intoxicated because it is "just another opportunity" to be drunk or high and it helps his school day go by more quickly. Mary says she likes knowing the school can't control what she does. Another student says he comes to school drunk because he likes the feeling of hiding something from everyone else.

But when kids are doing illegal substances in school, Moreno believes it's indicative of an even bigger problem: They are in early stages of addiction. "Some adolescents may use substances recreationally in a social situation where they aren't trying to get completely drunk or stoned and someone just hands them a beer, but that isn't the case in school," he says.

Some kids are using the drugs to help them function with psychological disorders like depression, low self-esteem, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or even boredom, according to Moreno.

In any case, when students come to class intoxicated, they are unable to learn, and "Education is taking a backseat," says English teacher Lucas Henry.

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Clair Briggs. Clair Briggs is a junior in the Blair Magnet. She's really excited to be a part of Silver Chips this year! In her free time, Clair likes to spend time with her friends and she likes to eat Chipotle. She loves country music, California, and … More »

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