Maryland District's Get-Tough Policy Cited as Model for Drug-Free Schools
In Anne Arundel County, Md., school officials are enforcing a tough, no-exceptions drug policy that federal officials would like to see become a model for the rest of the nation.
The policy is clear and simple: Students caught once with drugs or alcohol are suspended; those caught a second time, or those found dealing even once, are automatically expelled.
It is a policy that long ago made a fan of William J. Bennett, the nation's drug-policy director and the former U.S. Secretary of Education. Mr. Bennett first brought the program to national attention when he highlighted it in the department's 1986 publication "Schools Without Drugs."
A department official said Mr. Bennett included Anne Arundel in the publication "not because it was the best of all possible programs, or [because of] any other particularly scientific investigation, but just because its name came up."
The policy was featured again in the $7.9 billion national anti-drug strategy unveiled last month by President Bush.
Under the President's plan, which includes a $37-million increase in drug-education funding, schools would be required to adopt drug-prevention programs and policies similar to the one in Anne Arundel as a prerequisite for receiving any federal funds.
Last week, the Senate adopted an Administration proposal that would require schools to have a clear statement about sanctions--up to and including referral for prosecution--for students who possess or distribute drugs or alcohol on school grounds. (See related story on page 19.)
Educators, meanwhile, hail the Anne Arundel policy as a success story that others should emulate.
"What they have done in Anne Arundel--to make their drug policy an important part of their drug-prevention program--is very important," said Trina Brugger, the associate director of the American Council for Drug Education. "I think it serves as a model in the sense it has been clearly defined and clearly communicated."
Russell Henke, project director for the drug-free-schools program in the Maryland department of education, said the state has considered the Anne Arundel policy to be a model program since 1982. While other districts in the state have similar anti-drug policies, he said, Anne Arundel should be cited because it has uniformly enforced its sanctions.
The policy, which was implemented in 1971, requires that any student caught possessing or being under the influence of an illegal narcotic or alcohol be suspended for up to five days.
Students suspected of possessing or consuming an illegal substance or alcohol are brought to the principal's office for questioning and observation. If the principal determines that the student has indeed consumed or possesses the substance, criminal charges are filed with the police and the student's parents are called.
The principal then must refer the case to the superintendent's special assistant, who will set up a conference with the student and parents.
Before being readmitted to the school, the student must reveal the source of the drugs or alcohol, and sign an agreement to remain drug- and alcohol-free.
The student also must attend an evening alternative drug/alcohol program. The program consists of eight hours of drug-education instruction over a four-week period, together with five hourlong counseling sessions for the student and his or her parents.
Students who are caught possessing or using a drug or alcohol a second time, or who are found to be selling or distributing drugs or alcohol, are expelled.
A student can be readmitted to a school other than the one from which he was expelled on a case-by-case basis. But this can happen only if the student has: participated in a drug or alcohol treament and counseling program; been separated from the school system for at least a semester, or for 18 weeks of school; and attended a session of summer school or a semester of eveningschool.
The district also has a mandatory K-9 drug-education program. In addition, senior-high students may take a semester-long drug-education elective.
Since Anne Arundel's evening program began during the 1979-80 school year, the number of students caught using, possessing, or distributing drugs and alcohol on school grounds has dramatically decreased, officials say.
During that first year, 507 students were suspended or expelled; during the past academic year, through the end of April, 95 students were disciplined under the policy.
The vast majority of students who are suspended agree to take the drug class. And district officials estimate that virtually all of the students who are expelled eventually earn their way back into the school system.
Huntley Cross, the county's coordinator for drug and alcohol programs, said the policy has been so successful that undercover narcotics agents who work in the schools sometimes find it difficult to arrange drug purchases. "[The dealers] will talk the drugs, but they won't do them in school," he said.
Local educators said students strongly support the policy.
Kenneth Nichols, the principal of Annapolis Senior High School, said that students bring more than 80 percent of the potential drug and alcohol offenders in his school to the attention of teachers and administrators. At the beginning of this school year, he said, four students on the same day reported that another student had been dealing lsd on school grounds.
"I still believe that we have kids dealing drugs in the schools," Mr. Nichols added, "but they take a very low, low, type of profile."
"If you want to find [drugs], you probably could," said Allisen Haworth, a senior at Severna Park High School and a voting member of the county school board. "But I also think that if you want to find help, you can find that, too."
Others said they thought the policy could be better implemented. Susie C. Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said teachers "don't have adequate information to help the kids."
She added that teachers need more training to help determinewhich students may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The effect of the policy on students' behavior outside of school is harder to gauge.
The results of a district survey released last month showed that most students who use drugs and alcohol say they consume them at home, at parties, at a friend's house, or in a car. Fewer than 5 percent of all students responding to the survey said they had used alcohol or another drug at school or at after-school activities. This pattern is consistent with findings from a national survey released last week by the National Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education.
Sgt. Robert Beans, director of the Annapolis police narcotics division, said that "usually, there is someone there willing to offer them drugs just as soon as they get off the school bus."
However, he added, the Anne Arundel policy may have some effect on behavior outside of school.
"As long as the kids can stay off drugs during the school period, that shows they can extend it to a longer period of time," he said.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we have pushed [drugs] out of the schools," Mr. Cross said. "I think our mission was to provide a safer, drug-free environment."
C. Berry Carter 2nd, deputy superintendent of schools, echoed that sentiment. "We're not naive enough to believe that we will change behavior overnight," he said. "I think our program is part of the solution."