A new look at drugs: Dickinson schools draft new policies to handle substance abuse

Schools around Dickinson are amping up efforts to combat student drug use, but officials say the measures are largely proactive. Though neither Dickinson Catholic nor Dickinson Public schools could provide hard numbers on substance abuse incident...

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Press Photo by Nadya Faulx Trinity High School dean Rev. Kregg Hochhalter works in his office on Sept. 4. He spent the summer drafting the school’s new stricter drug policy, which allows students, parents and administrators “to stay in the conversation” after a substance abuse incident, he said.

Schools around Dickinson are amping up efforts to combat student drug use, but officials say the measures are largely proactive.
Though neither Dickinson Catholic nor Dickinson Public schools could provide hard numbers on substance abuse incidents within their schools, authorities for both schools say with the community’s growth has come an increase in drug policy enforcement.
Rev. Kregg Hochhalter, dean of Trinity High School, said the school drafted a new substance abuse policy in response to what he sees as a growing drug problem in the community.
“The increased drug use in the city of Dickinson, we have to admit, is going to influence our kids. Our kids live in Dickinson. Trinity High School serves the city of Dickinson,” he said.
“For us to think that the increased usage in Dickinson does not affect Trinity High School students, I think, is naive.”
Substance abuse cases between 2012 and 2014 were higher than the past 20 years, Hochhalter said, but declined to specify numbers, saying only that “concern was at an all-time high.”
The school’s new substance abuse policy expands upon its previous policy of detaining any student caught using or under the influence of alcohol or drugs on school grounds or at a school function, notifying his or her parents, and notifying law enforcement.
Often, things would end there.
“It was a phone call to home,” Hochhalter said. “It’s not very proactive and it’s not protective. We want to be protective.”
Under the 2014-15 school covenant, signed by all Trinity students and parents, the new policy allows for parents, students and school administration “to stay in the conversation if an incident does occur,” he said.
New protocol outlined in the covenant includes unannounced random drug searches of DCS facilities and property, mandatory drug testing at an approved health care facility if authorities establish “reasonable cause,” and possible enrollment in a treatment program if the test returns positive. A second offense will result in the student’s expulsion for the semester.
Since he proposed the revised policy in the spring, Hochhalter said he has spoken to law enforcement, lawyers, parents, students and school administrators from across the state to draft the plan.
The policy gives stronger authority to school administration in preventing and handling substance abuse, but Hochhalter said concerns over the nature of testing and protecting student rights have been “handled positively.”
“A lot of parents have been waiting for this,” he said. “The students have welcomed this.”
And Trinity isn’t the only school taking a new look at substance abuse.
After discontinuing it several years ago, Dickinson Public Schools is reinstating the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) at Hagen Junior High later this year.
“My experience has been that it has been effective,” DPS Superintendent Doug Sullivan said. “Hopefully we’ll see some success in educating students of the danger of substance abuse.”
School resource officer Ron Van Doorne said the new DARE program will be completely revamped from what it used to be. Previously, the district didn’t have the money or manpower to oversee a program, but law enforcement decided now is a good time to bring DARE back to schools.
Drug use throughout DPS schools has gone up, but the growth has been parallel to the district’s burgeoning student population, Van Doorne said. Hagen’s student body now tops 500 and Dickinson High School is at more than 900.
“We are seeing an increase (in drugs), but we’re seeing an increase in the number of students,” he said. “There’s no radical jump. It’s all kind of right with the population increase.”
The Dickinson Police Department has applied for a grant to pay for a second school resource officer to join Van Doorne, who said it has been hectic having a presence in the district’s nine schools.
“I like to be a little more proactive than I’ve been able to,” he said.
Sullivan said the district’s substance abuse policy - which includes random K-9 checks of school facilities, suspensions for offenses and referral for treatment in a dependency program - hasn’t been revised for some time, but he and other school officials review it periodically.
“The school district always reviews mechanisms where it can do a better job of prevention,” he said.
Trinity’s new drug policy, however, is just the start of increased security measures around the school, Hochhalter said, adding they could become even stricter in the future.
He said the school might partner with law enforcement to bring in a school resource officer.
Whether the policy will have an impact on numbers is yet to be seen, but speaking during the first week of September, he said the administration has not has not had to enforce the policy yet.
“I wish we would have had it last year,” he said.

Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207.

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