Survey shows drops in drug use, weapon possession at Berkeley High

Henry Ascensio/Staff
A student walks by Berkeley High School on Allston Way and Milvia Street. A recent survey shows that the Berkeley School District's drug and gun use have gone down.

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Fewer Berkeley High School students are bringing weapons to campus and going to class drunk or stoned, according to recent data from a new self-reported survey.

The California Healthy Kids Survey results — which have been met with surprise and joy from administrators — come after the implementation of multiple intervention programs by the Berkeley Unified School District in recent years to help students with problems related to alcohol, drug and tobacco use.

The survey is administered every two years to students in fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th grades in schools throughout the state. Students self-reported answers to the survey on topics like alcohol, tobacco and drug use and school safety.

“Four years ago, when the board saw the first survey that went to them in a number of years, (it was) surprised by the levels of use — primarily of marijuana and alcohol,” said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

Since then, the district’s task force concerning alcohol, tobacco and drug use has worked to implement numerous safety and intervention programs for students.

“The district did engage in a number of safety measures going back to February or March of 2011 when there was a series of gun incidents at Berkeley High,” said the district’s Director of Student Services Susan Craig.

Between January and March of last year, four guns were confiscated at Berkeley High School, accompanying an incident of a shot fired on campus.

However, according to the survey, students are bringing fewer weapons onto campus this year — just over 10 percent of ninth and 11th graders reported carrying a weapon onto school property. In comparison, about 17 percent of ninth graders and 16 percent of 11th graders reported carrying weapons onto campus in 2010.

According to the survey, about 35 percent of 11th graders in the district reported attending class drunk or high this year — numbers that are above California’s statewide average in 2007 but still lower than the about 48 percent reported in 2010.

“If you suspend a student who has marijuana and send them home for three to five days, then there’s a good chance that they might be hanging out not at school continuing to use,” Craig said.

Craig said last fall the district used money from a Tobacco-Use Prevention Education program grant to offer counseling services at Berkeley High School and other schools in the district.

The district also offers other intervention methods such as Project Aspire, a program at Berkeley Technology Academy that offers therapy sessions to students struggling with problems related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

“We’re very pleased with the survey results all around, and at the same time we’re not at all complacent,” Craig said. “We’re looking for continued reduced substance use.”

Contact Mitchell Handler [email protected].