(06/27/2008)
By Bob Weaver

A report on the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, violence and related behaviors has been returned to the Calhoun school system for review.

The 2008 Pride study, used by 8,000 school systems, is based on the responses of 274 students in Calhoun-Middle High School, grades 6 through 12, with surveys of 11% to 20% from each class recorded.

Some areas of the latest survey are disturbing, not only areas related to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, but other unsafe behaviors like carrying a gun, being afraid at school or threatening a fellow student.

The 2005 Pride survey also had some sobering statistics, saying 75.9% of 11th grade students and 64.7% of 12th grade students reported they had drank beer within the last year.

About 31% of Calhoun's 2005 6th grade students reported to have consumed alcohol within the last year, indicating the average age of young people experimenting with alcohol is 11 years old.

Students answer the questions anonymously, their confidentially is protected.

Parental permission was required for a student to take the 50-minute survey.

Some surveys are thrown-out, the tests having cross-questions to check the honesty of the responses.

Under No Child Left Behind rules, schools are required to establish a uniform management system to reflect such problems.

Doug Hall, president of Pride Surveys, told the Herald that "Kids are more honest than their parents" in responding to questions about alcohol, drugs and behavior, saying the survey has high validity and reliability.

Hall said community members tend to have a negative reaction toward schools, asking "What are they going to do about the drug problem?"

He said, in fact, the hundreds of thousands of surveys clearly show that most of the alcohol-drug use occurs at home rather than at school, most often in evenings and on weekends when school is not in session, when students are with friends.

"Schools teach the harmful effects of alcohol, drug use and negative behavior," said Hall, "It is not an easy place to do these things, although it happens."

Because of the shifting of responsibility to schools for many personal and social ills, school systems tend to remain silent about the problem because of negative public perception.

In Calhoun, the system does not provide public information regarding their use of drug dogs, although the results are often negative.

State rules regarding drug dogs prevent an actual encounter with students, allowing searches in locker and public areas of the school. Students are required to stay in classrooms.

CM-HS principal Kirby says dogs are now taken to the school's parking lots and outside areas.

The system does not release the number of students who have positive drug screen results in a state initiative that randomly checks athletes and other students enrolled in extra-curricular activities.

Principal Kirby says even releasing the number creates a violation of personal confidentiality, because of the small size of the school.

Kirby said the school is taking an active position to deal with problems defined in the Pride survey.

While there are zero tolerance policies, she said the school system makes efforts to help students with risky problems.

Kirby and Pride coordinator Shari Johnson, with the support of a Pride committee, actively advised parents and guardians this year during graduation that reports of alcohol-drug partying involving minors would be investigated for possible prosecution.

A letter was sent to parents from prosecutor Shelly Morris DeMarino.

The latest Pride report is marked confidential. It will be reviewed by Calhoun Board of Education members and then made public, said Kirby.


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