Primary schools battle drugs, booze

By Sonya Bateson

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Children as young as 8 are being busted at Western Bay schools for drugs, substance abuse and alcohol-related incidents.

An Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Education found there were about 60 instances of Western Bay children being stood down or suspended for using drugs or other substances at school in the past five years, and more than seven instances of children being stood down or suspended for bringing alcohol.

Parenting for Men co-ordinator Dave Halligan, who mentors young people, was not surprised by the figures.

"Kids this age are adventurous and they try stuff. If it's available to them they will try it.

"At that age group, most of them have tried it and there are a lot of homes where the adults will sit in the lounge and have a smoke. I haven't seen the adults offering it to the kids and in many cases they are trying to deter the kids, but they didn't realise their behaviour was showing the kids it was okay."

Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping said his school's 11 cases all related to two incidents - one in 2009 where a student brought cannabis cigarettes to school and shared it with eight friends and a similar incident in 2011 involving two students.

"We contacted the parents of the children immediately and in all cases they were stood down for one or two days while we worked with the families. The parents in these cases certainly weren't happy."

Mr Popping said they had not had any other incidents since 2011 and he felt programmes in the school and presentations by ex-drug addict Pat Buckley had affected students' attitudes toward drugs.

Tauranga Intermediate had 23 incidents in the past five years. Principal Brian Diver refused to comment.

Te Puke Intermediate had 17 incidents. Principal Jill Weldon said a number of the incidents related to one child who was stood down multiple times for repeat offences, including one where they brought pre-mixed alcohol to school in a drink bottle.

"We try and work with the families and support agencies to make significant changes to the way families are operating," she said. "In the Bay we have quite a high number of families who see cannabis use as okay, which makes it difficult for us because they get a clear message here and a different message at home."

Mrs Weldon said programmes had been implemented in the school and they had not had any drug or alcohol instances in the past 18 months.

Te Akau Ki Papamoa principal Bruce Jepsen said they had one incident in 2008, when they were a full primary school, where an older student was caught sniffing petrol.

"That sort of behaviour is far and few between, that was the only incident in five years and back when we had older students at school. We do programmes at school like Keeping Ourselves Safe and Kia Kaha and they are clearly working, students are making good decisions."

Pongakawa School principal Craig Haggo said they had one drug incident a few years ago with a student who was reasonably new to school. He said the school took a hard line policy on drugs and sent a clear message to the community that drugs were unacceptable.

Gate Pa School principal Richard Inder said in the past five years there had not been any incidents of drugs, alcohol or substance abuse and the data was incorrect, but said they had programmes at the school such as Life Education to teach the children about health.

Greenpark School deputy principal Jason Mischewski said they had a stand down in 2011 when a young boy brought a can of beer to school to show off to his friends.

St Mary's Catholic School principal Ben Fuller said he was not aware of any incidents at the school as he had only been there for a year, but said they followed Ministry guidelines "to the letter" when dealing with stand downs and suspensions.

Welcome Bay School principal Nik House said he had been at the school for 18 months and was not aware of any drug-related incidents in the past five years.

Brookfield acting principal Carol Burborough said she was not prepared to comment as she was only standing in as principal and Mount Maunganui Intermediate principal Lisa Morresey was unable to be reached for comment.

Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell said it was a concern young people were accessing drugs and cannabis use in young people increased the chance of addiction and mental health problems in later life.

"New Zealanders probably need to take more care with their children around drugs. It's worrying because the result is likely to be diminished potential, it sort of dumbs down the country."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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