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Schools’ Drug, Alcohol Crime Up 6.5%; Tops State Average

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a second year running, Ventura County students were more likely to drink alcohol, smoke pot and sell drugs than their counterparts across the state, a report released Wednesday says.

In the annual California Safe Schools Assessment, Ventura County public schools reported fewer batteries, sex offenses, weapon possessions and property crimes during the 1999-2000 school year than their counterparts statewide.

But the schools also saw a 6.5% increase in drug and alcohol crimes on campus, with 599 students arrested for possession, sale or use, up from 562 the previous year.

That represents 4.37 arrests for every 1,000 schoolchildren, a figure county schools Supt. Chuck Weis said “should worry every parent.”

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The data, compiled by the state Department of Education, represent the second straight year that drug and alcohol offenses in the county have exceeded the state average. Statewide figures show 4.03 arrests for every 1,000 students.

Weis said that the increasing drinking and drug use is linked in part to the relative affluence of the county. The county has the sixth-highest family income out of the state’s 58 counties. “Studies show that when kids have funds, they have access to drugs,” he said.

But he also said educators may be focused so tightly on improving students’ academic performance that they have lost sight of other pressures that children face, particularly in high school.

“We’ve been trying to get kids to succeed and get into college,” Weis said. “But if they’re using drugs, they may never get there.”

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He recommended that schools put greater emphasis on prevention and called on churches and community organizations to redouble their efforts in combating drug and alcohol use.

After nearly a fourfold increase in drug and alcohol crimes in the Oxnard Elementary School District, officials there put extra emphasis on prevention and counseling programs that are included as part of the curriculum, said Kathy Cooper, who oversees the district’s information and support services.

On Wednesday, Cooper said she was pleased with the new data showing that drug and alcohol-related offenses for the 15,700-student district have dropped from 21 to 15. Most categories of crime also were down, including batteries, assaults with a deadly weapon and weapon possessions.

“Every school is doing what it can to foster good citizenship,” Cooper said.

In Simi Valley, school officials said they are encouraged by the new figures showing that drinking and drug use have stabilized after a previous increase.

“We’re pleased, but there are kids using drugs everywhere,” said Dennis Carter, director of Simi Valley Unified’s student support services.

Carter said that heavier emphasis on the crime statistics by school officials statewide has motivated local districts to show improvements.

In 1998, Ventura Unified added full-time resource officers to the district’s high school campuses and placed officers on a rotating basis at its four middle schools.

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That improved reporting, officials said, and elevated the number of crimes reported. Across each category, the number of crimes increased during the 1999-2000 school year, including 62 batteries, up from 22 the previous year.

But officials called the jump a product of an increased police presence, rather than a shift in student behavior.

“I don’t think that all of sudden something’s wrong,” said Trudy Arriaga, director of administrative support services. “It’s just very difficult to go undetected now.”

Arriaga said she shared Weis’ concern that schools have been overemphasizing academics at the expense of preventing drug use.

“It’s great that we focus on academics and accountability, but you can’t be ready to learn if there’s something else going on,” she said.

Statewide, drug and alcohol crimes were highest at the high school level. In the county, Oxnard Union High School District, with five high school campuses and a combined 14,300 students, had the largest number of those offenses--231.

The 368 other alcohol- and drug-related crimes recorded at county school districts are broken down as follows: Ventura Unified, 108; Simi Valley Unified, 72; Conejo Unified, 49; Ojai Unified, 27; Moorpark Unified, 27; Fillmore Unified, 22; and the remaining districts had fewer than 20 incidents.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Tracking Student Crime

Statistics show Ventura County’s five-year trend of incidents per 1,000 students.

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1999-2000 1998-99 1997-98 1996-97 1995-96 Drugs / alcohol 4.37 4.19 3.61 3.76 5.01 Battery 1.96 1.85 1.31 1.38 6.98 Assault with a deadly 0.11 0.13 0.11 0.16 0.10 weapon Robbery / extortion 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.09 Sex offenses 0.15 0.16 0.11 0.11 0.27 Weapons possession 0.89 1.05 0.99 0.81 1.29 Property crimes 3.27 4.00 3.69 3.85 4.70 Dollar loss per student $2.03 $1.97 $1.63 $1.63 $1.46

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Source: State Department of Education

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Trouble on Campus

Statistics show incidents per 1,000 students for Ventura County and California during the 1999-2000 school year.

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Ventura County State Drug / alcohol offenses 4.37 4.03 Battery 1.96 3.88 Assault with a deadly weapon 0.11 0.35 Robbery / extortion 0.03 0.21 Sex offenses 0.15 0.26 Weapons possession 0.89 1.14 Property crimes 3.27 4.28 Dollar loss per student $2.03 $4.01

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Source: State Department of Education


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