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Tuesday, 30 July 2013


Today I was thinking how and when my son's drug problem began. I suppose his drug use started to become a "problem" when he was 14. I could see the evidence and the drugs in his room. I would search his room when he was in school and dispose of the drugs I found. I could see that he looked high in the morning and I would search him. I found drugs in his backpack at first, then in his pockets, then in his sock, in his trouser cuffs, in his hat etc.. I would plead with him not to be doing this, and I warned him if he would get caught at school he would be in big trouble. While he popped pills and smoked dope at school,  it amazes me why it took the school so long!

A day after his 15th birthday my son and his friends thought it would be a good idea to celebrate with a little smoke of weed at school. My son brought in a wooden hash pipe, his other friend brought in the weed. So at break time they thought behind the P.E. building would be a good place to have a little birthday smoke. Along the way they bumped into another "friend" and the three of them proceeded to smoke weed at 10:00 am at school behind the P.E. building!

I believe that my son's behaviour at school, arriving looking high, unmotivated, falling asleep in class etc, more than likely set off the warning bells and the staff were probably keeping an eye on him, just waiting, waiting to catch him in the act one day.

That they had come. The boys got caught. They threw the evidence in the bushes and the third boy ran.

The boys got excluded for a week and then there was a meeting when I was told that my son was being permanently excluded from school. I remember crying in the headmaster's office begging him not too!

This is why I am wondering, as I did then, is zero tolerance on drugs helpful or is it actually counter productive? I live in a zero tolerance area of the country and there is no conversation when any drug use has been committed by a student, on or off campus...the student will be permanently excluded from school. No consideration on the student's school record, mitigating circumstances, possible personal difficulties, nothing will be enough to keep the child in school.

I think that a zero tolerance on drugs is wrong. It does not stop people from trying, experimenting, using, or becoming addicted to drugs. It is not some all powerful policy that it will  scare people into not doing what, to me is a temptation in life that most of us succumb to at least once in our lifetime.

So in a zero tolerance drug policy within a school, if a student smokes a joint for the first time, or if a student is a regular drug user, or if a student is a drug addict all would be treated in the same manner. This to me is wrong. Only if the student was a proven seller of drugs to other students on campus, that is a different can of worms. The school should investigate not only the incident, but also look into what may be happening to cause any stress in the student's life. They should consider if there are any mental health issues as well as looking at academic record, attendance, social functioning. Of course there needs to be some consequences to the drug incident such as a temporary exclusion, especially if it happened on school grounds, but drug education and counselling should also be given in addition to some extra support for the student and family.

In my opinion making a teenager an outcast and excluding them from their school, their social structure, support system, their home away from home, is just wrong. It will contribute to feelings of social and personal alienation and feelings of low self esteem, which the teen might already be suffering from. This isolation and rejection could possibly be a stimulus for more drug use and perpetuate the problem rather than help it.

In my son's case I truly believe it was the beginning of his downward spiral. He was permanently excluded and while I fought for his unjust removal, the local authority had to provide him with so many hours a week of education. That meant attending a "reform school" (pupil referral unit in the UK). It was a horrible place and after our initial meeting there I said that I want my son to receive at home tuition. I was not going to send my son to a centre in which the teacher could not teach because of constant violent outburst etc..The staff agreed it was not a place for my son.

We received  home tuition with 4 different teachers coming to our home to teach my son in 5 subjects in place of the 10-12 subjects he would be learning in school. I went to the Head Teachers, I went to the Board of Governors, I appealed the decision and took them to an appeal hearing twice. I researched the laws and educational guidance on policy making, I spoke to people in the Local government, I spoke to the Young People's Commissioner, the Young People's Drug and Alcohol Services. I got my son counselling. I had letters written to vouch for my son's character. I disclosed the home situation as well as my father's recent death, all of which affected my son's well being.

It took a year, but in a county of zero drug tolerance, we WON! It was almost unprecedented, with only one other case many many years ago, but we WON! It was a short lived victory because the damage was done. My son had lost his friendship groups and fallen behind in his studies despite some home tutelage. He was indeed excluded from everything and his anxieties started and grew. The school made it difficult when he returned and it was not an easy process at all.

So, who does a policy like that help, no one who will fall off the straight and narrow, not even once...and in my opinion, that would include the majority of teenagers.

Attitudes towards drugs and who takes drugs, really needs to change. We can make that happen!