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Drug use relatively low in local schools

Burbank Unified students report below-average consumption, according to survey.

December 04, 2010|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

Nine percent of Burbank Unified ninth-graders have carried a weapon to school, 5% of seventh-graders have smoked marijuana at least once, and 18% of 11th-graders have been drunk or high on campus, according to the recent California Healthy Kids Survey.

Funded by the California Department of Education, the biennial survey is designed to gauge the health of a school site by assessing health-risk behaviors that hinder academic success.

Self-reported data include grades, truancy, substance abuse, crime-related behavior and perceived safety at school. Students are also questioned about supportive social structures, such as the presence of caring adult relationships in their lives.

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The most recent survey was conducted during the 2009-10 school year and released last month. It includes responses from 3,375 fifth-, seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders within Burbank Unified School District.

Fourteen percent of Burbank seventh-graders and 18% of ninth-graders said they had used inhalants, which was higher than the 11% and 14% statewide averages.

But alcohol and drug use among Burbank Unified students is comparable to or below state and national averages in nearly all other categories, according to the survey.

For example, 17% of seventh-graders, 42% of ninth-graders and 63% of 11th-graders reported that they had consumed a glass of alcohol at least once — below the 24%, 47% and 66% reported in the statewide averages for the same categories, respectively.

Twenty-seven percent of Burbank Unified seventh-graders, 23% of ninth-graders and 19% of 11th-graders reported having been in a physical fight. State averages were 32%, 25% and 19%, respectively.

"I realize that we are below state and national averages, but to be very honest, I am not satisfied with that," said Tom Steele, director of student services for the district. "That is something we continue to work on."

Twenty-four percent of Burbank Unified ninth-graders and 34% of 11th-graders reported smoking marijuana at least once. Nationally, those numbers were 25% and 42%, respectively.

"I think our district and probably most districts have seen an increase in drug use with the medical marijuana being approved," Steele said. "It has been a pretty dramatic increase. The reason is marijuana is so much more accessible now because anyone can get a prescription for anything. If you have a hangnail you can get a prescription for medical marijuana."

The data compiled as part of the California Healthy Kids Survey is taken very seriously by district officials, Steele said, and is cross referenced with disciplinary statistics on a site-by-site basis.

He meets regularly with assistant principals for discipline at each of the middle and high schools to address specific issues, Steele said, and the results of the survey helps direct their work.

The district recently reintroduced random drug searches using drug sniffing dogs, Steele said. The searches had an immediate impact. On the second visit, the number of hits dropped by about 50%, he said.

"Am I happy about [the numbers]?" Steele said. "No, I am not. I think we can do better. I think this next year's report is going to be better than this year's report."

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