Requiring Parents to Send Children to Gang- and Drug-Infected Schools Is State Sanctioned Child Abuse

Parents of tweens and teens: CASA's 15th Annual Back-to-School Survey indicates that the odds are increasing that the middle or high school your children are going to is drug infected (a place where drugs are used, kept or sold), especially if it is a public school.

Are you going to do something about it or just accept it as an inevitable experience your child has to go through because "that's just the way things are today"?

If you heard that your child's classroom and school building were infected with asbestos, wouldn't you demand that the school authorities certify that the asbestos was cleaned out before you sent you child to school for five or more hours each day?

Are you more concerned about your child breathing asbestos dust than you are about your child drinking, smoking, popping pills, using marijuana, or experimenting with drugs like acid, ecstasy, meth, cocaine, and heroin?

That's the question you've got to answer because here's what CASA's 2010 Survey reveals:

  • Twenty-seven percent of public school children attend schools infected with gangs and drugs. Compared to teens at gang- and drug-free schools, the 5.7 million teens at these schools are five times likelier to use marijuana, three times likelier to drink, twelve times likelier to smoke, and five times likelier to be among friends and classmates who use illegal drugs like acid, ecstasy, meth, cocaine and heroin.
  • One in three middle schoolers say that their schools are drug infected, a 39 percent jump over the past couple of years. Ten percent of the kids at these drug-infected middle schools admit they smoke pot, while none of those surveyed at drug-free middle schools use marijuana.
  • Sixty-six percent of high school students say their schools are drug infected; continuing a steady increase in drug-infected high schools since 2006, when 51 percent of high school students said they attended drug-infected schools.

These increases in the number of drug-infected schools is a trajectory for tragedy for millions of 12- to 17-year olds in our nation because kids in drug-infected schools are much likelier to smoke, drink, get drunk, and use drugs than those in drug-free schools.

Hopefully these dismaying survey results will change the hear-see-speak-no-drugs mentality of so many public school administrators, from the U.S. Department of Education down through state school commissioners to local school board members. They all bemoan the number of dropouts and the low graduation rates, but they never mention that the bulk of those dropouts are kids with drug and alcohol problems or whose parents have such problems.

Indeed, if you want to know one of the reasons why so many public schools are failing our children, consider the difference the CASA survey reveals between public schools and private and religious schools: 46 percent of teens at public schools say there are gangs at their schools compared to only 2 percent of teens at private and religious schools. In other words, public schools are 23 times likelier to be gang infected than private and religious schools.

Where there are gangs, there are likelier to be drugs. Not surprisingly, 47 percent of public school students said their school was drug infected compared to six percent of private and religious school children.

The drug-free school gap between public schools and private and religious schools is up sharply from its narrowest point in a decade. In the 2001 CASA teen survey 62 percent of public schools and 79 percent of private and religious school students said they attended drug-free schools; in this year's survey, 43 percent of public school students and 78 percent of private and religious school students say they attend drug-free schools, widening the drug-free school gap from 17 points to 35 points.

Most adults do not encounter gangs and drugs at work each day. Why do we force millions of our children to encounter gangs and drugs at school each day? If adults faced gangs and drugs in their factories and offices they would protest, call the police, and if that failed, change jobs. Yet we expect millions of our children to return to the same school, day after day, and face the menace of gangs and drugs.

Placing our young teens and pre-teens in an environment where drinking and drugging are common is state sanctioned child abuse, since we know that the earlier a child begins to smoke, drink or use drugs, the likelier that child is to become addicted. States require parents to send their children to school; in some states it is a crime if parents fail to do so. These states have an obligation to provide safe and drug-free schools. Requiring parents to send 12- to 17-year olds-and even younger children-to drug- and gang-infected schools is an outrageous misuse of government power-and a mandate that no parent should be forced to respect.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Founder and Chair of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Carter Administration.