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Random drug searches debated

Whistler Secondary parents decide not to bring in sniffer dogs

After a passionate debate parents at Whistler Secondary have decided not to support random drug searches in the school.

The debate was in part sparked by a call by some parents to introduce "sniffer" dogs as a way to help the school be free of illicit drugs and alcohol.

Instead the parents at the Parent Advisory Council meeting Tuesday night decided to focus on educational initiatives to combat drug and alcohol use and to ensure the topic is addressed regularly.

"We want parents to know that we are not trying to brush this under the carpet," PAC chair Manj Thind said Wednesday.

"These types of meetings, and there were some passionate pleas either way, (are) important (because) we are discussing things and these issues need to be brought out and put under close scrutiny."

Thind pointed to problems other communities are facing due to the influx of drugs such as crystal meth as a reason why parents must keep on top of the issue.

"We would be fooling ourselves if we thought we didn’t need to be aware of these issues that are affecting these other communities," said Thind.

"We need to keep people coming in as guest speakers to fine-tune some of the policies that we are hoping will give us that edge to combat the problems that may develop in the future."

The school’s drug and alcohol policy states that all school property and surrounding areas are Drug Free Zones, said Whistler Secondary principal Bev Oakley by e-mail.

"In addition, it is expected that students will not be using illicit drugs during school hours, nor will they come to school under the influence of illicit drugs," she said.

Like every other high school in the province there are issues with drug and alcohol use by students

A 2003 survey of 30,500 high school students in B.C. by the McCreary Centre Society found that 37 per cent had used marijuana, with one third of boys smoking it at least 100 times.

Oakley said rates at Whistler Secondary, when surveyed two years ago, were slightly below the provincial average.

"We believe that the (percentage) of students using illicit drugs at WSS during school time is very low," she said.

"However, any illicit drug use or sale during school hours is absolutely unacceptable and therefore we do all we can to enforce school property and school hours as drug free zones."

The Whistler survey found that over two-thirds of the youths from Grade 6 to Grade 12 have used alcohol in their lifetime. Almost half reported drinking in the 30 days prior to the survey date and almost a quarter reported smoking dope in the same period.

Currently the school has a series of workshops going on in Grades 8 through 10 which address the issues said Oakley.

"In addition, we have a drug and alcohol counsellor and a mental health counsellor that both have office hours at the school two days a week. These professionals are here to support students that may have issues with illicit drug use."

RCMP Staff Sgt. Norman McPhail, who attended the meeting, told parents that the detachment was 100 per cent behind designating the school a safe zone.

"We would like to have safe zones around the school that are 100 per cent drug free, that is the goal," he said.

"We want to have a safe area so that (students) can move about without having to be worried about being impacted by drug trafficking or those types of things."

Law enforcement officials have been working with the justice system so that if traffickers are found around schools they could face triple the usual penalties, which vary from six months to 10 years in prisons, depending on the substance and amount.

However, it is the aim of the RCMP two work with other agencies, including the school, to deal with small amounts of drugs found in the school.

"If we find someone that is attending school who possesses drugs, if it is not a substantial case, then the likely outcome of that would be to bring them to the school administration and have that dealt with in-house with the parents," said McPhail.

He also pointed out that police service dogs do not do random searches at schools unless it is part of an on-going investigation.

He encouraged parents to stay involved with their kids and to contact the RCMP or school officials with any concerns.

"Know what your kids are doing, be involved with what your kids are doing and try to understand that there are substantial pressures on young adults throughout society at this present time," he said.

"Face the situation and let someone in the system know."

He also told parents that the RCMP’s ongoing drug enforcement program, which includes taking down grow-ops in Pemberton and working with Squamish RCMP, all impact the availability of drugs in Whistler.