Big Bill Bennett, the U.S. secretary of education, turned up before a House committee last month to say some remarkably sensible things about the drug epidemic in our public schools. He had several recommendations for coping with students who use drugs, or deal in drugs, on school property. His first recommendation: expel them.
Bennett is on the right track. He made it clear that he certainly is not opposed to "drug education programs." He believes firmly that a long-range answer lies in promoting a unified front among parents, students, teachers and principals. Meanwhile, Bennett cited a couple of examples of "get tough" policies that have worked wonders.
Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J., was "a caldron of violence and terror" before Joe Clark took over as principal. The school had a drug education program, but while the program was going on, students were selling drugs in the halls. Clark got on the public address system and announced flatly that there would be no more drugs at Eastside. Subsequently he expelled 300 students. There is no drug problem at Eastside today.
Hundreds of miles to the south, in Atlanta, Northside High School also had a "rampant" epidemic of drug use. It too had a drug education program, but one day Principal Bill Randolph found students in an art class smoking marijuana and blowing it through the air vents. He sent a letter to every parent warning that "if I catch your child with drugs," the child would be o-u-t. Drug abuse at Northside, said Bennett, "has just about stopped."
Rep. E. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale was the only committee member to support Bennett's proposal: "I think it's about time that we quit worrying about the kid that we throw out of school who was nothing but a pusher of drugs, and we worry about the five that he's going to corrupt if he stays in the school."
Let me add my own "amen" to the comments of Bennett and Shaw. Two weeks ago I attended a conference of New York mayors at Niagara Falls. I kept asking these city officials, most of them from quite small towns, what they regarded as their biggest problem. I expected them to say "getting liability insurance." They said, "Crack." Their towns and public schools are undergoing an epidemic of addiction to this latest cocaine derivative. The situation cries out for the very kind of toughness Bennett is advocating. Drug education programs alone won't do the job.
A couple of years ago I proposed that capital punishment, in a particular form, be revived for dealers in drugs. My thought was to hang convicted offenders in a public square. Some readers were horrified. Others thought I was kidding. I'm not kidding. Capital punishment may not be much of a deterrent against murder, but the sight of a few corpses swinging from a scaffold might work with drug dealers. And I cannot imagine a more heinous crime than the crime of pushing heroin or cocaine.
Other steps should be taken. President Reagan recently authorized the augmented use of the Navy and Air Force in interdicting drug smuggling from South America. This should help. Local judges should be encouraged to impose harsh terms in prison for serious offenders. Local school boards and parent-teacher associations ought to throw their weight behind Bennett's proposal for "zero tolerance." No measures will end the traffic entirely, but if this plague is to be contained, much more will have to be done than we are doing now.