John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Drug talk earns kids time off

Schools taking increasingly hard line.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Cheeky boasts are landing children in deep trouble as schools take a hard line on booze and drugs.

At Northland's Te Horo School, almost half a dozen kids were suspended this year for hoaxes about drug possession. "There were two separate incidents, involving five or six children in each incident," principal Cheryl Vallance said.

"They didn't involve the physical possession of stuff but, because we have zero tolerance, we have no option but to treat it as if it was real."

In a stand-down, pupils are removed from school for up to five days until a decision is made by the principal. Suspension is a removal from a school until the board of trustees meets to decide the pupil's future.

At Upper Hutt's Maidstone Intermediate School, principal Richard Patterson said eight kids caught sharing a Vodka Cruiser drink between them were stood down this year. "Although the amount they consumed was tiny, we just thought it was important to make a point to them so they were stood down for one day."

Ministry of Education figures show at least 12 pupils aged under 10 were stood down in the year to August 31 for alcohol, drug or tobacco incidents.

The statistics cover state and state-integrated primary and intermediate schools.

Anti-smoking crusades seemingly haven't stubbed out the crowd behind the bikeshed. Since January, more kids have been stood down for smoking than in all of last year.

The Herald on Sunday was also told which schools had the most suspensions and stand-downs for these incidents. Some of those schools disputed the findings as other schools dealt with discipline issues in-house, obscuring the true scale of the problem.

Patterson said his school told the ministry about stand-downs. "If we believe the behaviour is serious enough we do it by the book."

Te Puke Intermediate principal Jill Weldon said some pupils were repeat offenders. "We've had the same group of students who've been re-offending," she said. "Schools are always a reflection of their community and Bay of Plenty unfortunately has a reasonably high incidence of marijuana use. In every case when kids bring it to school, it's from their family."

Weldon said some schools probably under-reported stand-downs to make their data "look nice".

In Hamilton, Peachgrove Intermediate principal Louisa Barham said some schools handled incidents informally, without sending records to the ministry.

Barham was "surprised" to see her school in the top five for stand-downs and suspensions. But she said intermediate schools needed trained social workers and nurses to help manage students who took drugs or had depression.

Also in Hamilton, St Andrew's Middle School principal Tanya Thompson said younger children were getting involved in drug incidents. But she said her school's figures included year 9 and 10 students. She said the school called police about every smoking, drug, or drinking incident. "It's illegal, no matter how old you are." Thompson said the school had no-holds-barred drug education. "Last year our kids went home talking about methamphetamine. I had parents ringing me and saying, 'Tanya, what are you doing'?"

In West Auckland, Royal Rd School principal Wayne Leighton said cases were treated individually. "If we involve the police it would be with the co-operation of the parents."

Ministry figures suggested Glen Eden Intermediate improved relative to others - the school was off the radar this year after two years in the top five.

Principal Kerry Hewitson credited his school's zero-tolerance policy. Pupils with drugs were stood down immediately and went before the board of trustees.

- Herald on Sunday

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