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Schools try to change behavior when students caught with drugs
Procedures determine punishment
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Hall County and Gainesville City Schools both have a no-tolerance policy regarding drugs at school, but they attempt to change the students' behavior while they still can.

Last week, a Gainesville Middle School student was found with less than an ounce of marijuana. Because of the student's juvenile status, authorities are not permitted to release information on his or her identity or much about the actual case.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said drugs in city schools are "very rare."

"However, when it does occur we handle it as per procedure and very aggressively," she said.

Hall County school officials said drugs in county schools do occur regularly. Most often those drugs consist of prescription medications the student is not authorized to possess, as well as the occasional possession of marijuana.

"It's a regular occurrence, I think, at almost every school district in the country," said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.

Statistics involving drug possession charges at school are not recorded in individual categories but rather in an overall category of possession of a controlled substance involving minors.

In 2011, 39 drug cases were filed against juveniles in Hall County Juvenile Court. Those 39 involve cases brought by the Hall County Sheriff's Office and the Gainesville Police Department, but if all other sources are included, whether it be parents or other police departments in the county, that number would double, said Hall County Juvenile Judge Cliff Joliff.

Joliff estimated the courts deal with approximately one case each month involving students possessing drugs on school property. But those are just charges brought to juvenile court for formal processing and might not encompass all cases of drugs at school.

"By and far the most times we detect drug use by kids is by drug testing kids on probation," Joliff said.

When a student is found with drugs on school property, certain procedures are followed to determine punishment. The student will be suspended from school for whatever period is considered necessary and then taken to a tribunal.

In Hall schools, principals are authorized to suspend students for up to 10 days. Any suspension longer than that is handled by administrative services.

Some cases must be handled according to policy, while others are determined by various factors including the seriousness of the incident, the student's past history, age and grade performance.

According to Hall County Schools policy, students in possession of drugs must be immediately suspended pending a tribunal and are referred to law enforcement. Students attempting to distribute drugs are suspended for the remainder of the semester and are required to participate in an intervention program.

Rather than abandon the student, officials attempt rehabilitation.

"We don't expel them. We suspend them and send them to alternative school so they can continue their education instead of being thrown completely out of school," said Hall County Director of Administrative Services Gary Stewart.

The intervention program, known as Super I, is a four-session course that involves the student, as well as his or her parents, and focuses on the dangers of drug abuse, as well as the consequences of continuing drug use on both the student's health and the legal ramifications.

"It's proven to be a pretty effective program, at least to raise the awareness and try to decrease the recidivism of kids and drug issues and hopefully lead them to a better path," said Jim Sargent, director of Hall County student services.

The four sessions are meant to be informative.

"A lot of families don't know the laws of underage drug use and things like that," said social worker Laura Terrell.
Many of the students in the program are first offenders, Terrell said.

"It opens their eyes," she said. "It really opens parents' eyes to know what can happen if their child continues down this path."

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