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NZ schools in less denial about drugs problem

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New Zealand schools in less denial about drugs problem

Trustees have been given a pat on the pack for facing up to the fact that many of their schools have a drug problem, instead of denying it.

One of the country’s leading drug educators, Jeff McIntyre, told delegates at the New Zealand School Trustees Association annual conference in Wellington that schools are really starting to recognise the scope of the problem.

“I’ve seen schools that have previously been in denial. Now the trustees and the principal have come to realise that the drug problem is a lot more serious than they ever thought. They’re more prepared to address it and try and do something about it,” he says.

Jeff McIntyre says principals and teachers have seen the effect that cannabis use has on students, and how it acts as a large barrier to getting an education.

However, he says it is all very well for schools to admit that they have a drug problem, but many don’t know how to address it.

Jeff McIntyre is running a workshop at the NZSTA annual conference, and has some innovative suggestions for trustees working to make their schools drug free. He says they don’t require a lot of extra funding, rather just a team approach.

“I would like to see schools move away from a knee-jerk reaction to drug users. Rather than immediate suspension or expulsion I would like to see students diverted into a drug assessment. They could be allowed to stay at school on the condition that they stay drug free. The get-tough approach just means drugs users are sent to other schools and it doesn’t stop students using.”

He’s also advocating the use of drug free contracts for high profile groups within schools, like sports teams. He says drug users could be stood down from games or activities for breaching the contract, which would probably hurt them more than suspension or expulsion.

Jeff McIntyre would also like to see support groups set up where students can network with others trying to stay drug free in school time and on school premises.

“Other ideas that could be effective would be for schools to improve staff and parent education, to promote parent networks so they are aware of what their kids are up to and to encourage schools to work more effectively with other agencies,” he says.

Meanwhile, Jeff McIntyre has some tough words for MPs advocating the decriminalisation of cannabis.

“They need to listen to principals, teachers and parents because they will find a groundswell of opinion against decriminalisation. These people are on the coalface dealing with kids who are using drugs and they see the damage,” he says.

Jeff McIntyre says the debate about decriminalisation is sending out very confusing messages for young people.

“Ever since decriminalisation has been proposed, teenagers have been throwing it back in the faces of teachers, parents and even the police. They aren’t aware of the proposed legal niceties – all they see is that it’s okay to use cannabis – MPs do and it’s going to be made legal anyway,” he says.


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