RICHMOND -- The quality of drug education offered in Virginia's local school systems varies dramatically, and many local educators say they need to do a better job involving parents in substance abuse programs.
A newly released state board of education study of anti-drug efforts in the public schools, requested by Gov. L. Douglas Wilder 10 days after he took office in January, highlighted anew the disparities between the most affluent school districts and the poorest ones, said Robert Northern, Wilder's drug policy adviser.
"Some school divisions are doing an excellent job," Northern said. Because of pinched financial resources, others "are hurting; they're suffering."
The study, based in part on surveys sent to 128 Virginia school systems, did not identify the localities by name or attempt to rank their efforts. In general, Northern Virginia's relatively well-funded school systems are ahead of the pace in providing substance abuse training, state officials said.
The need for more money, a problem likely to be exacerbated as the state government and many localities find their revenue diminishing, was targeted as a concern of 86 percent of the local school systems responding to the survey.
Wilder last week said he will award the state Department of Education $150,000 in federal anti-drug money. Part of the money will be spent on programs training parents in drug and alcohol prevention, and part will be used to develop instructional guidelines for a model substance abuse program that can be used by local schools, Wilder said.
About 95 percent of the state's local school systems said they would like their teachers and other staff to have more substance abuse training.
Northern said the administration hopes to have the model program ready this fall. Wilder has called upon the state board to convene a conference of local school systems in March to help them with their anti-drug efforts.
The study identified areas where those efforts appear to be falling short. Suicide prevention, for example, is believed by many educators to be an important adjunct to substance abuse training, but such programs are available in relatively few school systems.
Likewise, the study said, many localities do not do annual evaluations of their substance abuse programs to see if they are working.
Many educators said more anti-drug help is needed from people outside of the school setting. Almost 90 percent of local school systems said they need more help from parents, and 52 percent said they want support from police and social services departments and other community agencies in their battle against abuse.
Among the other findings:At-risk students, those coming from broken homes or with other problems that might steer them toward trouble, need more attention, according to 84 percent of the school systems. Better programs are needed in the middle-school grades, according to 67 percent of the respondents, and in the elementary schools, according to 62 percent. Support programs for children whose parents are alcohol- or drug-dependent are needed, 54 percent said. Local school systems need help identifying substance abusers and referring them to treatment programs, according to 53 percent.
Fairfax County, the state's largest school system with nearly 130,000 students, has already implemented many of the programs that other educators in the state say they need, according to spokeswoman Dolores Bohen.
The thrust there, Bohen said, is on beginning substance abuse instruction in the early grades and on introducing anti-drug material in many different settings: health classes, biology classes, physical education. She also said Fairfax has one of the toughest discipline policies in the state, requiring expulsion for anyone who distributes drugs on school grounds and 10-day suspensions for using drugs at school.