Vaping, the legalization of marijuana and the increased use and sale of alcohol and illegal drugs — including cocaine and crystal meth — are tough issues that the staff of Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School are taking steps to meet head-on in 100 Mile House.
Earlier this month, the 100 Mile Free Press received a copy of a letter sent to parents of the Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School’s student body from the school.
“Over this past year we have been dealing with a number of issues at PSO and we’d like to bring them to your attention,” the letter starts. “The explosion of vaping both off school property and on has become alarming. The school board policy is clearly outlined with respect to the prohibited nature of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vape use on school property.”
In an email to the Free Press, principal Geoffrey Butcher said the issue of vaping has increased for teens in all parts of the western world and that statistics on the increase and usage rates he has seen are not out of line with the rest of Canada and the U.S.
“They are still alarming, with a usage rate around 32 per cent averaged across Grades 8-12. In this year we have seen the most increase and like most schools have been playing a catch-up game in terms of education and enforcement. The public health experts have been involved as we try to get ahead of this as have decisions around enforcement which is subject to the law of diminishing returns,” Butcher said.
He added the school sometimes introduces short-term enforcement solutions to help deal with the problem, but enforcement can only go so far. He also expressed education is lacking, which is something the school will be emphasized at the start of the 2019-20 school year in September.
According to the letter, also signed by Butcher, school staff has seized “many” vapes and vape juice from students, as per policy. Parents must come to the school in order for the items to be returned.
When asked how many items had been confiscated, Butcher said “hard numbers on seizures of equipment whether vaping or drug/alcohol use, for instance, we do not have that information compiled but suffice it to say we would already be proving what we know to be an issue for a portion of the student body.”
The letter also addresses an increase and sale of controlled substances such as marijuana, alcohol and harder drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth.
“The consumption of this last worrisome group is by a small sample of students but it is this coupled with a couple of examples of student use of cannabis that resulted in serious health consequences that have us worried. With the concerns about fentanyl and carfentanyl and the very real possibility of cross-contamination the need to address the issue of illicit drug use has come to the fore,” said the letter.
Butcher said most of the consumption of drugs and alcohol use during school hours occur mostly offsite, but students bring the issue to school after the fact. He also reaffirmed the assertion that it is a very small percentage of the student body are using harder drugs, but also added the usage of drugs such as crystal meth has not been seen by staff and only came to their attention through rumours.
The letter also addresses the legalization of marijuana and the misunderstanding of the legality of student usage and possession.
According to the province’s Cannabis Control and Licensing Act (CCLA), 19 is the minimum age to purchase, sell or consume the drug. Cannabis and vaping are also prohibited from everywhere smoking cigarettes are, such as schools, playgrounds, sports fields, skate parks and anywhere children gather.
As per School District 27 (SD27)’s policy no. 5114.2, students who engage in misconduct related to substance abuse or improper use of alcohol or drugs (including medication) are subject to disciplinary action, including suspension. This policy includes both on and off school property misconduct.
The policy covers:
- Providing other students with illegal drugs or alcohol, facilitating the use of drugs or alcohol on school premises or in connection with school district-sponsored activities.
- Possession, use, gift or sale of illegal drugs.
- Being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while on school property.
For the use and possession of non-medical drugs (and/or alcohol) or where there is “reasonable” evidence a drug use or possession occurred will result in a ten-day suspension on the first offence, which can be reduced at the discretion of the principal or vice-principal. A second offence results in an indefinite suspension.
For trafficking, the first offence is indefinite suspension and notification of the RCMP. A second offence leads to an indefinite suspension, with a recommendation for long-term suspension determined by the review committee and the RCMP will be notified again.
“Greater degrees of enforcement will not eradicate the problem. The school board is looking to modify its suspension policy around use and possession to include a mandatory educational component but also keeps students more connected to school so as to not jeopardize their long term academic success,” said Butcher. “All the above information was part of the meeting with the service providers (Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre, Child and Youth Mental Health, Interior Health) including modifying the district’s suspension policy. The school has been in touch with the RCMP and had positive discussions regarding providing more police presence in certain problem areas.”
The school, said the letter, will also be performing random bag checks in search for contraband, seizing any found. According to the document, the searches will be as private as possible and not in any classrooms.
Any seizures of drug-related contraband (and weapons) will result in a suspension.
“In the case of vape and vape products, we would be within our rights to destroy them but are settling for seizing with no return until the last day of school. This approach will stay in place until such time as the problem has receded,” states the document.
The school’s own website (www.peterskeneogden.ca) includes link facts and information on vaping, cannabis, fentanyl and other concerns regarding substance use under the ‘parents’ tab. Documents regarding search and seizure laws and how they relate to schools are also included.