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School's hard line on drugs

ROSE CAWLEY
Last updated 05:00 11/04/2014
Michael Williams
ZERO TOLERANCE: Pakuranga College principal Michael Williams says if the school finds any hint of drugs the student will be suspended.

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Suspension is the main tool one secondary school uses to deal with students involved with drugs.

Eighteen youngsters from Pakuranga College were suspended for use, possession, or involvement with drugs in 2013.

Figures released to the Eastern Courier under the Official Information Act show no other East Auckland school had more than five suspensions for drugs in the same period.

But principal Michael Williams says the problem isn't Pakuranga College's high number of suspensions - it's the national drug culture.

"I think New Zealand has a drug problem. We know that. You only have to look at the number of P labs that are being busted."

He says the school has to be aggressive when it comes to drugs.

"If there is any hint of being involved in drugs then students will go straight to the board of trustees."

"Not all schools have that hard-nosed stance."

Williams says suspension is used as part of an arsenal of strategies at the college.

Drug testing is another.

"We don't want habits to start so if we can catch them on their first dabble or even thinking about dabbling, then we throw the book at them and make a big deal of it."

Williams says the college's low expulsion rate shows Pakuranga isn't passing the buck.

"These young people are actually part of our wider community, we can't wash our hands of them," he says.

"They may have done something pretty bad that we are horrified at but we can't just leave them sitting on a park bench in our community."

Suspension opens up conversations between the school, parents and students which brings the taboo subject of drug use out and addresses the issue, he says.

Young Life NZ Trust director Mike Turinsky says there is a decrease in the presence of drugs in East Auckland schools.

Young Life provides community youth workers to schools in areas where caring adults are needed.

He says there is no quick remedy but suspension can be a good tool to help deal with students involved with drugs.

"The school has hundreds of other students to think about when they come across those who are using," Turinsky says.

"It is a proactive, pragmatic and appropriate response to a situation," he says.

But sufficient support and follow-up must be part of the longterm plan around the children, he says.

"Schools are actively beefing up their counselling departments as well as providing community youth workers for kids to talk to about such issues.

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"Providing regular access to help from safe and trusted adults is key to giving teenagers an off-ramp out of situations of drug and alcohol abuse."

If you need help call the Alcohol-Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797.

- Eastern Courier

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