TASC to Chicago Tribune: 1st Responders to Illinois High School Student Drug Problems Must Be Counselors, Not Cops

(Chicago) – The Chicago Tribune‘s Diane Rado reported last week that minority students in Chicago-area high schools are more likely to receive tougher punishments and police referrals than white students over issues involving drugs or other illegal activity in school.

Here’s an excerpt from her story:

“The newspaper’s review of federal data as well as school, police and court records shows inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary discipline for the same or similar offenses at Chicago-area schools. The cases often involve drugs, drinking, smoking cigarettes, peddling prescription drugs or fighting and stealing.

The inconsistencies affect white students, too, the Tribune found, but minority students, particularly blacks, are more likely to be reported to police — a step more serious than a suspension that is handled confidentially at school.”

TASC’s Executive Vice President Peter Palanca responded to Rado’s story with a letter-to-the-editor, criticizing school administrators for a “law enforcement” first approach to student substance abuse issues.

Here’s Palanca’s letter to the Tribune:

Dear Editor:

Based on my more than 30 years as a professional focused on adolescent substance abuse issues, including school-based prevention and intervention, school administrators need to know that the discipline and law-enforcement only approaches described in your article (“Minorities unequally disciplined in high school” Tribune, 26 September 2012) fly in the face of best practice.

Arresting one student out of four for a drug-related incident is the wrong answer.  Providing the appropriate service intervention in every case is the right answer.

School discipline is not compromised by addressing substance abuse through prevention, intervention and treatment. Instead, it is enhanced. When a student has been found to be in possession of, or having used, any illegal substance, including alcohol, schools must first engage clinically qualified professionals-–rather than law enforcement-–to assess the student’s drug or alcohol use and behavior, and to ensure follow-through with appropriate interventions.

Moreover, in my experience, and as your article illustrates, schools’ responses to student substance abuse often reinforce that fact that the problem tends to be minimized or overlooked in some communities, while it receives severe consequences in others, and these unequal responses often fall under racial lines. This is unacceptable. Consequences must be equally enforced across schools and across districts. 

The focus of school administrators must shift to getting students the help that the right intervention and treatment provide.

Peter Palanca

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

TASC, Inc.

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