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2 student arrests, 3 medical emergencies prompt concerns of La Cañada High campus drug problem

2 student arrests, 3 medical emergencies prompt concerns of La Cañada High campus drug problem
A series of drug-related incidents at La Cañada High School last week, which led to the arrest of two students and the hospitalization of two others, left school officials scrambling to calm fears about a drug problem on campus. (File Photo)

A series of drug-related incidents at La Cañada High School last week, which led to the arrest of two students and the hospitalization of two others, left school officials scrambling to calm fears about a drug problem on campus.

Two high school students were hospitalized Wednesday, Feb. 21, for “medication-related health emergencies,” according to La Cañada Unified School District officials, who assured parents in a Feb. 22 email the episodes were not related to each other.

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One of those students — a male junior whose identity is not being released to protect the privacy of a minor — was taken to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital after a teacher observed him in medical distress at around 11:35 a.m., sheriff’s officials reported.

It was determined the student had ingested an unknown amount and unknown type of pills, according to a statement the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station released following the incident.

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When asked whether the pills were sold on the La Cañada High School campus, Dep. Eric Matejka, who works closely with LCUSD schools, said “not to our knowledge.”

An investigation into that medical emergency led sheriff’s deputies to 18-year-old LCHS student Dax Shmidt, who was thought to have supplied the male student with some kind of substance. A search of his residence and vehicle turned up loose pills.

“They appeared to be Xanax,” Matejka said of the pills recovered from Shmidt’s vehicle.

Shmidt was taken into custody and booked at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station at around 6 p.m. on Feb. 21, according to the deputy.

LCUSD officials were quick to post an official comment from Supt. Wendy Sinnette that same night on the “La Cañada Flintridge Parents” Facebook page, informing community members the matter was being investigated by school administrators.

In an updated letter posted online by school board member Ellen Multari the following day, Sinnette said the incidents had been thoroughly investigated.

“We are aware that there are substance abuse issues at LCHS — it is the reality at every high school and we face it as well,” Sinnette wrote, highlighting constant collaboration among officials, staff and administrators and ongoing educational outreach. “But we also know that these extensive efforts, which for so long have been a comprehensive response, are no longer enough.”

Still expressing their shock on social media about what had happened Wednesday, the high school community learned Friday from district officials a second student had been arrested, after a tip from a fellow student led to the discovery of “illegal substance and other paraphernalia on campus.”

“Law enforcement was contacted and the student was placed under arrest,” Sinnette said in an email sent out Friday evening. “We have no further details to share at this time but will keep you apprised as we learn more.”

Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Watch Commander Lt. Mark Slater confirmed Monday a female juvenile was arrested for being in possession of a controlled substance. She was eventually released to her parents, pending a court appearance.

“It was pills of some sort, but we won’t know exactly what [kind] until it’s positively identified,” Slater said of the drugs seized during a search of the female student’s vehicle.

Also Friday, a suspended Shmidt returned to the LCHS campus without permission at around 8:45 a.m., entered the school office and reportedly had a seizure. Sinnette, along with campus principals Ian McFeat and Jarrett Gold, apprised parents of the incident that day in yet another email, although they did not name Shmidt because of student privacy and confidentiality rights.

Site administrators, they wrote in the email, immediately called 911, and the student was transported to a nearby hospital. Whether that medical incident was connected to substance use or abuse could not be confirmed by school or sheriff’s officials.

“We are concerned about the recent incidents and are monitoring and investigating all activities of concern on campus,” the email continued. “We appreciate the home-to-school partnership at LCHS and encourage parents to talk with your students about positive choices to avoid risk-taking behaviors.”

They told parents administrators were at work on creating an anonymous reporting instrument, such as a tip line, to provide more information and avenues to support all students.

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