Panel Debates Focus of ‘Drug-Free Schools’ Report

By Ellen Flax — May 16, 1990 2 min read

Washington--Members of the National Commission on Drug-Free Schools and a Bush Administration official clashed last week on how prominently the problem of youth alcohol abuse should be featured in the panel’s final report to the Congress.

Members of the commission, which was created in 1988 by the same federal legislation that established the post of the nation’s so-called “drug czar,” said during a meeting here that alcohol, and not illegal drugs, is the most serious substance-abuse problem facing most schools.

The panel, which consists of 24 drug experts, politicians, and school officials, began its work last August. It is expected to meet at least one more time before submitting its final report by the end of the summer.

The committee is co-chaired by Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos and William J. Bennett, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Panel members said they initially believed that drug abuse is the primary substance-abuse problem in schools. That view was altered, they said, after they visited schools across the country.

“We have been beseiged, really, with alcohol,” said Thomas A. Shannon, the executive director of the National School Boards Association. “We believe that that’s the principal problem for the schools.”

‘Don’t Blur the Distinction’

But Herbert D. Kleber, the deputy director for demand reduction in Mr. Bennett’s office, said that while the report should discuss alcohol, its main focus should be on illegal drugs.

“We continue to believe that illegal drugs should be the focus of the report,” he said. “Don’t blur the distinction between illegal drugs and alcohol.”

Dr. Kleber noted that drug trafficking is a crime and often results in violence. “It’s a tragedy that goes far beyond the individual,” he said. “Most kids aren’t afraid to go to school, for better or worse, because of alcohol.”

Such drugs as cocaine and heroin are far more addictive than alcohol, he said, and the vast majority of adults who drink do so responsibly.

Manya C. Ungar, the immediate past president of the National pta, said she believes Dr. Kleber’s office was subject to a certain amount of “political pressure” to keep the report focused on illegal drugs.

“They want money to fight co8caine,” she said. “They don’t want to interdict Budweiser.”

The exchange with Dr. Kleber came shortly after the commission members voted in favor of recommending a total ban on alcohol and tobacco advertisements.

It was not clear, however, if this policy recommendation would remain intact in the final report.

An aide attending the meeting for an absent panel member, Senator Richard C. Shelby, Democrat of Alabama, said the Senator would not be willing to support such a position, and committee staff members indicated that other panel members who were not at the meeting share that view.

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 1990 edition of Education Week as Panel Debates Focus of ‘Drug-Free Schools’ Report