EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 30, 2013

School drug policies under review in Pelham

By John Toole

---- — PELHAM — Education officials are reviewing policies for drug searches and disciplining students over drug use, as the community embarks on a community awareness campaign.

Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz said officials could put new policies in place as soon as next month.

Lecaroz said the discipline policy won’t strictly emphasize punishment.

“There will be more of an intervention than a discipline focus,” she said.

The School Board took up the issue of using drug-detecting dogs for searches earlier this month.

“I have had a number of requests from people on the board, as well as people in the community, if we can have dog searches within schools,” Lecaroz told the board.

The district does have a policy that empowers principals, in consultation with the superintendent and legal counsel, to initiate such searches of school property.

But Lecaroz said in four years as an administrator in the district that is where the issue has stopped.

“Every time I consulted our legal counsel, the recommendation was we did not have enough evidence to indicate a pervasive drug issue,” Lecaroz told the board.

Legal counsel has advised administrators they need to have evidence of multiple students using drugs in multiple places before a search.

School Board members have been skeptical about the lawyer logic.

“How is there not enough evidence when kids have been caught on school property?” board member Megan Larson asked.

But Lecaroz told the board it hasn’t amounted to multiple incidents.

“We’re not doing a good enough job catching them in the act,” School Board vice chairman Deb Ryan said.

Lecaroz anticipates more board discussion about searches with police and legal counsel in October.

In the meantime, the superintendent said the community awareness campaign, initiated by Selectman Hal Lynde, is just the beginning of the effort to aid parents and help students make good decisions.

The kickoff tomorrow includes activities at schools during the day, capped with a community forum at 6 p.m. at Pelham High, 85 Marsh Road.

“We felt we needed a kickoff event to draw attention to the issue,” Lecaroz.

More forums will follow, including ones to help parents.

“It’s just the beginning of things,” Lecaroz said.