Targeting Drugs And Rumors: Surveys Show Low Use Compared To Other Schools, But 15 Police Dogs Conduct Drug Search
Police officers with 15 drug-sniffing dogs searched Andover High School Friday morning, Oct. 24, as part of a surprise exercise that Principal Peter Anderson says was meant to stop rumors there is a drug problem at the school.
But that doesn't mean police are finished arresting students they believe are using or sharing drugs on school property. On Monday, Oct. 27 - the first school day after the huge drug sweep - an officer believed he saw an exchange made during lunchtime in the Andover High School parking lot that resulted in an arrest and charge of marijuana possession for a 16-year-old student.
Anderson said he and police Chief Brian Pattullo had talked about conducting Friday's drug search for several months.
"Both of us are tired of hearing rumors, innuendo and gossip that there are great numbers of students using drugs at the high school campus. We were both growing weary about those kind of reports," said Anderson. "We found our theory to be correct."
Marijuana was found in one student's car, outside of the high school on Friday, leading to the student's arrest and a charge of possession of a class D drug with intent to distribute, said Andover police Lt. Commander James Hashem. One other student faced disciplinary measures this week after dogs found a small amount of marijuana in a locker Friday.
"It was such a small amount that police declined to do anything about it," said Anderson of the locker contraband.
"I would characterize the search as being very successful, in that we found very little evidence and very little quantity of drugs in the school," said Hashem. "It yielded a small amount of marijuana in the school, and additionally in a car ( outside in the parking lot ).
"We wanted to send the message that this kind of activity doesn't belong in the school. There's been a lot of talk about ( drugs ); we and the school had been hearing talk and discussion about drug activity. We felt this was one way to act upon these rumors, to see what was there through a search," said Hashem.
Noting nearly 99 percent of last year's graduating class is continuing its education, Anderson said he wished more people in the community would recognize the type of youth it has. While he said he cannot speak about the extent of drug use "at 11 p.m. on Saturday night," he said he does not believe there is a drug problem during school hours on campus.
Surveys of students indicate about one quarter of juniors use marijuana on a monthly basis ( see sidebar, page 1 ).
"I think Andover High students, and other students, oftentimes are judged with a degree of suspicion, and they don't deserve that kind of judgment," said Anderson.
Roughly 10 officers from the Andover police were involved in the 90-minute search, which began a little after 9 a.m. on Oct. 24, said Hashem. The "specialized canines" and their handlers came from police departments from Andover and surrounding towns as well as the Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk counties sheriffs departments. The dogs sniffed lockers, 20 classrooms and vehicles in the parking lot. Anderson said he explained to students the intent of the exercise.
"We didn't have a list of kids we were trying to target," said Anderson.
The school was split up evenly, said Anderson, and two or three classrooms were searched on each hallway in Andover High School's two floors. They tried to vary between lower and upperclassmen courses, and avoided rooms that would have fumes that would throw off the dogs, such as art or science rooms.
For the search, students were asked to leave the classroom and line up in the hall. Diane Costagliola, a co-president of the Parent Advisory Council at AHS, said the issue of drug use is discussed among PAC members, and they've talked about it with police at their meetings.
"The search proved that there is no major problem ( at AHS ). The administration has a lot of faith in students and the teachers, and I think they did something that was appropriate," said Costagliola. "When you're dealing with high school, and teenagers, the reality of the situation is that there's going to be a certain subculture, per se, that unfortunately includes drug use or alcohol. I don't think parents keep their heads in the sand ( about drug use ). It doesn't mean you don't talk about it.
"The PAC has received a few e-mails about it ( the search ), I've talked with parents, and we've heard nothing but positive feedback, support for Anderson and the police and support for what went on on Friday," she said.
The search followed a weekend during which Andover Police arrested 10 young adults "for various drug charges, including distribution. Six of those arrests were Andover students," said Hashem. "Based on the arrests, there is substantial drug activity, but it does not appear to be in the high school."
Dave Nichols, who retired in June after 32 years in Andover schools and ten as the district's health-education director, attributes the low use of drugs at AHS to good parenting, a wealth of extra-curricular activities, strong health education and that "students are genuinely afraid of getting caught ( with drugs ) at AHS."
"Most risk behaviors are relatively low at the high school ( compared with other schools in the state ) ... I think that Andover doesn't hide their head in the sand, when there's a problem. I think that was evident in the search ( on Friday ). It's a real credit to the school system, I believe, that 1,700 kids ( were searched at AHS ), with one arrest. As a community, Andover can be proud of that, but at the same time, stay cautious and still vigilant," said Nichols.
"I agree with Peter Anderson, and feel they do a great job at Andover High School. But ( drugs ) are something we have to be concerned about. It's not something you want to let your guard down, no matter how you're doing, and I think Peter knows that. He wanted to dispel the myth that drugs were being passed around in the school. It proves a point and send a message to students. I applaud Peter for what he did. I think it's an intelligent move. Instead of having theories about things, let's know and have discussion about it. I think it's great that he takes action."
Author: Bethany Bray, Staff Writer
Pubdate: Thu, 30 Oct 2008
Source: Andover Townsman (MA)
Copyright: 2008 Andover Publishing Co.