Berkeley High students at risk because of pot use

Berkeley High School

Students from Berkeley High are getting stoned in the park across the street from the school and in alleyways and other “out of the way” places in the downtown area, “morning, lunchtime, and mid-afternoon,” according to a new report which presents a plan to curb student drug and alcohol use.

Drug and alcohol use among Berkeley ninth graders is twice the state average and some students may be getting their pot from medical marijuana cardholders, the report contends. Eleventh graders also use drugs and alcohol at higher rates than students at other high schools do.

Making matters worse is the fact that the school district does not have an effective truancy program to trace students who skip school, so there are no repercussions if they hang out in Civic Center Park all day.

“During the daily school lunch break, numerous students go across the street to Civic Center Park and indulge in ATOD (Alcohol, tobacco and other drug) use and other negative behaviors, according to the report, which was drawn from information gathered from a 2008 California Healthy Kid Survey. “Due to limited police monitoring, school security and availability of other school staff during BHS lunch breaks, students find it easy to “get high” while on lunch break in Civic Center Park.”

Berkeley School Superintendent Bill Huyett was not available for comment Thursday but he told the Oakland Tribune that, “We do need to do more in the park across from the school. The school has to do more and so does the city. It doesn’t seem like we supervise that space very well. We need to have a conversation with the city about that.”

But some Berkeley High students contend that the report does not expose the full extent to which students are smoking pot and drinking. They are also getting high in school, the students said.

While smoking marijuana on campus is grounds for suspension or expulsion, it is not uncommon for students to smoke pot in the high school’s bathrooms, eat brownies laced with cannabis, or even use a vaporizer to smoke pot during class, according to several students interviewed by Berkeleyside.

Students smoking pot in class usually do it when a teacher steps out of the classroom or has their attention diverted.

“There are so many nooks and crannies in Berkeley High that it’s easy to do what you want,” said one student, who asked that her name not be used.

Students also fill their Kleen Kanteen thermoses with vodka and sip them throughout the day, according to another Berkeley High student.

And numerous students at Berkeley High celebrate “420” day. Started by students in San Rafael in 1971 and named after the time they smoked pot every day after school, the term now signifies April 20, when many kids attracted to the marijuana subculture come to school stoned, according to the students. Many students also drink or get high during Spirit Week.

But the rampant drug use does not mean most Berkeley High students are stoned,  said one student.

“It doesn’t make Berkeley High a bad school because for all the kids who do that (get stoned during lunch and on campus) there are people who don’t do that stuff.”

The report, put together by a task force of school, community, and city officials over a 10-month period, acknowledges that Berkeley’s tolerance of drugs, and focus on drug dependency by adults, may have contributed to lax oversight of teenagers. The report points out the dangers of using drugs and alcohol at a young age and sets out a series of steps to curb risky behavior.

“The fact that little attention has been focused on ATOD (alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs) youth prevention in the school district and in the city and that most of the services during the past 20 to 30 years have been provided to adult ATOD treatment has left a major service gap,” said the report.

It calls for a citywide coalition to address the problem.  Instead of focusing on suspensions or expulsions – punishment – the report recommends emphasizing positive behavior as a way to make teenagers change.

The report calls for:

  • Transforming discipline systems by implementing positive behavior systems for all grades, such as:
  • Support Building Effective Schools together (B.E.S.T) at each school in order to change the patterns of suspensions, expulsions, and office referrals for behavior
  • Reduce suspensions and create alternatives to suspensions at secondary schools by developing and implementing intervention strategies
  • Keep students on campus
  • Address the current racial problems that exist in schools
  • Focus on ATOD as one of the obstacles to student success and develop and implement a variety of interventions to address the obstacles
  • Strengthen the transformation of the discipline systems and address racial inequities.

BUSD Healthy Kids Survey 2009 Report presented to Berkeley school board from Mark Coplan on Vimeo.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.