Help When Possible, Punish When Necessary

It is troubling that a few Jamestown school children found drugs so easy to get that they possessed them openly in Washington Middle School.

It is also worth noting the quick and appropriate response by Jamestown Public Schools officials – particularly Melissa Emerson, school principal, who acted quickly after learning there may have been drugs on school property. Jamestown police officers and a member of the department’s K-9 unit were in the school for two hours, prompting a lockdown of the school. A number of students were identified as either having or knowing about the drugs in the school, and those students are being dealt with through the school’s disciplinary system.

Punishment is necessary, but simply punishing students for drugs brought into the schools doesn’t solve the broader problem. The first line of defense against possession, use or sale of drugs by youth is parents. That is a problem at a time when far too many parents condone recreational drug use or, even worse, are selling drugs from their home. It hasn’t yet been uncovered where the drugs in the Washington Middle School situation came from, but an adult had to play a role. Last week, a North Collins woman was charged after complaints of teens using illegal drugs in her home. Earlier this year, a Falconer couple were charged after police found them in a downtown parking lot preparing to use drugs while a 10-year-old child was inside their car.

It will take decades to begin effecting change in a culture that doesn’t recognize youth shouldn’t have easy access to illegal drugs. It is also comical to think parents and guardians who have illegal drugs in their homes would be responsible enough to keep them locked up and out of the hands of children.

Too often, discussions of how to handle narcotics are boiled down into two mutually exclusive options: legalize substances or police and punish all sellers and users. Credit Tim Mains, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, for realizing his district must take a different approach. Mains plans to convene a task force to develop better prevention activities for the district and, when the situation arises, make referrals when drugs are found in schools so students and families involved can be interviewed and select the services that make the most sense for them. Mains also has acted swiftly and decisively in punishing those who bring drugs into schools or hide that information from school officials.

It is a perfect microcosm of how the county, state and nation need to handle drugs. Help when possible and punish when necessary to make clear drugs have no place in a decent society.