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Tim Myers: Zero tolerance, random drug testing and black-tar heroin

Myers' Musings

Posted: May 22, 2010 2:27 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.
"Dad, I think today I was an unwitting co-conspirator in a violation of the Hart district zero-tolerance drug policy," said my eldest son in the fall of 2003, when he matriculated into high school at Valencia. "I loaned someone my pencil at lunchtime and watched them use it to hollow out an apple, which they then probably filled with weed." (The apple smell supposedly masks the sweet, sweet smell of the herb, and corrupts the old phrase: "An apple a day keeps the narc away!)

I harbor a very strong suspicion that if not caught then, those young men who borrowed the pencil certainly got caught later, since needing to spark up before lunchtime probably shows a serious lack of self-control. Seven years ago, no one questioned the "zero-tolerance" policy of the William S. Hart Union High School District, but now some - particularly local drug-treatment provider Cary Quashen and City Councilman Frank Ferry - call the policy into question and seek to amend its draconic inflexibility.

The Santa Clarita Valley definitely stands of two minds on the issue of illicit-drug usage. Many maintain the demonstrably false belief that residence in a certain zip code insulates their children from this dire temptation, while others react to any news or rumor of drugs as if we stand on the threshold of the second Opium War.

Naturally, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Drug usage exists in the SCV, but unlike less affluent places, resources also exist to deal with the problem. The question then becomes how to apply the right tools to the problem, which I assert the community has not done up until now.
People rightly credit Mark Twain with the phrase, "When someone's only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In the area of youth drug usage, the conservative SCV basically brought the hammer of harsh enforcement and fear to every sign of trouble.

An old joke makes the rounds that every parent in the SCV in favor of zero tolerance is the parent who has not yet found the bong in their child's room. The use of this hammer knocks over a set of dominoes that sets in motion a series of events that can cause ruination and marginalization, to wit:

Children caught under the influence or in possession of contraband on school grounds face immediate expulsion from the comprehensive high school environment. What does this mean?

Well, the alternative schools do not offer advanced placement and honors classes, which makes it impossible to earn a GPA above 4.0. This year, nearly all the campuses in the University of California system boasted entering classes with an average GPA above 4.0. So for one infraction, the clearest scenario will effectively deny that student access to the UC system despite their academic abilities.

The Hart district also brought in the hammer of police state types of enforcement, with the usage of (fake) drug dogs to sniff out contraband on campuses. I have personally spoken with at least three K-9 officers in various law-enforcement departments, and they all agreed the private providers of alleged drug-sniffing dogs do not go through the rigorous training required by law enforcement. Which makes it no surprise that over multiple years and tens of thousands of dollars spent on the private contract, the poseur dogs and their equally poseur handlers found no significant contraband on school grounds.

Which then brings the community to the most singular act of stupidity of the Hart district: the usage of "voluntary" random drug tests to discourage usage. First, the random tests rank as an extreme waste of money for any student who enthusiastically agrees to the regimen, since these kids should be the least of anyone's worry.

Ironically, for those more at risk the threat of a random test may actually drive the student to the usage of more harmful opiates like smoked heroin rather than the blessed hemp, since anyone who reads the Internet knows that a mere eight to 12 hours will cleanse one's system of black-tar heroin, while one finds three to four weeks necessary to flush the THC associated with cannabis.

What would Quashen and Ferry prefer to the zero-tolerance policy? A more enlightened policy of monitoring and treatment to give the teenager opportunity to recover from their misdeed, and determine at least if possible redemption exists.

I agree that it is time for the acquisition of more than a hammer for our community toolbox.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Myers' Musings" appears Sundays in The Signal.


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