As Montgomery County school officials scramble to find a way to cut down on the widespread use of drugs at county schools, a student leader said yesterday the youths themselves want to participate in finding a solution.
Everybody is concerned about the problem, everybody wants to help," said Phillip Ehr, president of the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, at a joint press conference yesterday with school Superintendant Charles M. Bernardo and Police Chief Robert J. diGrazia.
The conference was called to announce the formation of a task force made up of police, students, school officials and drug experts who will study the drug problem at county schools, where more than 315 students have been arrested by police since September.
Yesterday's announcement came in the midst of growing controversy over a proposal, now being considered by the school board to set up a special school for students involved in drugs.
According to Brian Berthiaume, the program's architect, the $35,000 pilot project would use a combination of per pressure and family counseling and a "one-room schoolhouse" approach to rehabilitate and return students involved in drugs to regular classrooms.
However, some officials have accused the board of acting too hastily on the program and not evaluating it thoroughly enough. Others said the special school, which would enroll a maximum of 35 students, would not reach enough students. School officials have estimated that as many as 800 students in county schools are using drugs.
Robert Jardin, chief of the Montgomery County Health Department's Alternative and Constant Programs, which already oversees one school that rehabilitates students found to be heavily involved in drugs, said the board "is probably acting too hastily on the whole thing.
"I'm proud of our school track record, but we deal with hard-core users," he added. "Most of the 800 students in the schools don't need an intensive program like ours. To put them in an isolated location for education and therapy is like stamping their foreheads with a label of degeneracy."
The program's primary backer, Verna Fletcher, said she was disappointed that the vote was postponed but admitted that "the board doesn't have enough information on it. What I'm concerned about, though, is that if we don't do something fast we'll lose an entire generation of kids."
School Superintendant Charles M. Bernardo plans to tie the proposed project to a larger comprehensive drug program. School officials currently are evaluating nearly 700 model drug programs across the country and are considering revamping the drug-related curriculum already in use.
Bernardo also wants to set up more counselling groups for parents and their children who are involved in drugs, and announced at yesterday's press conference that an adult course to inform parents about drug abuse will be offered in January.
Ehr, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School, said that "most of the students think it's wrong" to smoke marijuana on school grounds during school hours, but he characterized the students' attitudes about using drugs outside the school as "very permissive."
The task force, which will study both the extent of drug use in the county and community attitudes toward drug use, should issue its findings by next June, Ehr said, so that the school can implement its recommendations during the 1979-80 school year.
DiGrazia yesterday said he initiated the drug raids hoping to spark a community effort to do something about drug use at schools. He said he is "more than pleased" to see the students have decided on their own to take some action. But he said his officers will continue to watch area schools and make arrests when they see violations.