A Tararua principal has taken a unique approach to dealing with drug problems at his school by publicly appealingfor the community to tackle the issue head-on.
Many principals seek to play down any issues relating to drug use at their schools but Tararua College principal Jon Ward took a different stance after pupils were caught with “illegal substances” at the Pahiatua high school in April.
He posted an open letter on the school’s Facebook page encouraging parents and caregivers to talk about drug issues with their children in an effort to “stamp out these activities”.
However, Ward declined to reveal any details about the incident, including how many pupils were involved and what substance they were caught with.
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Drug issues have become more problematic at New Zealand schools in recent years, with Ministry of Education figures from 2015 stating drug use as the the main reason for pupils being expelled from schools.
Nationwide, there were 156 expulsion cases in the 2015 figures. Expulsion mean an enrolment is terminated and if the student is over 16 they cannot enrol at another school.
Of those figures, 32.7 per cent were due to drug and substance use.
Ward said he wrote the letter to encourage more discussion around the subject.
“There’s always going to be a risk you get labelled [a drug school] and I’m very conscious of that, but I think you need to be open and honest.”
There would be consequences for pupils involved in these types of activities but Ward said they wanted to do more than just punish them.
“Where appropriate, they will be offered support and education to make changes for the positive.
“Only through wider discussion with our community will we stamp out these activities.”
He said he wanted to encourage parents to have open, honest conversations with their children about drug use.
“I would love to see parents talking more to their kids about any problems they have.”
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell commended Ward for his stance.
He said it was almost more crucial to keep pupils with substance abuse issues in school to get conversations going around the issue.
“That sort of punishment, where you’re excluding them from education, is not going to fix the problem and it’s more than likely going to make the problem much worse.”
In 2011, three boys were caught with drugs and kicked out of Palmerston North Boys’ High School’s boarding house, College House.
Feilding High School also dispatched four students from its boarding house in 2011 for drug use and Awatapu College testers found four students on drugs at school that year, too.
The third most common reason for pupils being excluded from school, which occurs when the student is under 16 and can then enrol in another school, was drug and substance use.
There were 883 exclusion cases in 2015, which were received by 869 different students, and of those 13.9 per cent were due to drug and substance use.
For suspensions, the formal removal of a student from a school until a Board of Trustees decides the outcome, drug and substance use was the second most common reason.
There were 2618 suspension cases in 2015, involving 2385 students, and 20.8 per cent of those were for drug and substance use.