PALM SPRINGS — An already-concerning level of marijuana use that leads to suspensions and expulsions of students in the Palm Springs Unified School District will only be exacerbated by the legal use of cannabis, educators fear, according to a report from Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

Staff is noticing that easier availability coupled with more prevalent forms of packaged edibles are making it easier for students to access legal cannabis, in particular, according to Lyon’s report.

legal PSUSD administrators and security have reported experiencing students in possession of edibles and oils in vaping pens since Jan. 2, 2018. You can see for yourself here the increase in suspensions for possession of drugs or alcohol for all grades, sixth through 11th from the 2014-15 school year through the 2016-17 school year. There was a decrease in expulsions during those years, indicating that the interventions that took place prior to expulsions in fact worked.

“We have about 100 to 120 expulsions a year,” James Williamson, president of the Board of Education said in a telephone interview. “Actually, in this school year, 2016-17, the number of expulsions has actually decreased, but I would say of those expulsions, probably 90 percent of them are cannabis-related. We think that by targeting education and cannabis, we can reduce that number.”

Educators looked to other states that have legal cannabis to help develop a plan to better educate students and families while also researching treatment options for students with multiple drug and-or alcohol offenses.

In Colorado, teen drug use was down in 2017. When recreational marijuana initially became legal, a study paid for by the White House suggested that marijuana use for teens 12-17, increased significantly, 24 percent in 2010 and 8 percent in 2013. More students ages 12-17 were being expelled and suspended and drug-related expulsions and suspensions increased by 40 percent since the laws were loosened in the state.

To curb increased substance abuse in adolescents, PSUSD will:

  • Change board policy regarding expulsion of students and provide interventions when a student is first caught using on campus.  Offending students will not be expelled until a third offense.
  • Provide a substance abuse curriculum from the Courage to Speak Foundation. This will begin Aug. 8 when classes resume.
  • Provide substance abuse counselors to improve current intervention efforts

The education is focused on middle school youth, Williamson said. The initial cost of the curriculum is just shy of $117,000.

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James Williamson

“When it comes to kids, the one thing that you can rely on is that they will always surprise you,” Williamson said. “They are amazingly thoughtful and involved, and when you talk to them about health concerns, and the impact of doing something, the majority of kids will make good choices. So, we want to do this proactive approach.”

The initiative will be the first of its kind and a model for other school districts to replicate, Williamson said.

“A model is something that folks in the Coachella Valley take pride in doing, obviously, but I think the important thing about a model is that it’s a new and innovative way of approaching a subject,” Williamson said. “I think our responsibility is to make sure that students make wise, informed choices about their health, and we are, with this model, meeting them where they’re at, rather than waiting for them to come to us.”

To help put these efforts in place PSUSD has entered into a collaborative multi-city agreement to provide drug education. Although Proposition 64 dollars are intended to help offset the costs school districts could experience as a result of legal marijuana, the district has not yet received any of the money and there is no clear picture as to what districts will be required to do with the money when and if it does start to come in.

“One of the things we don’t want to do is criminalize the use of cannabis, obviously, but it has a deleterious effect on young people,” Williamson said. “We want to provide them the information so that they can make smart, healthy choices about cannabis use. However, when the state legalized cannabis and made it more widely available, the state didn’t make money for education on cannabis use more widely available. They didn’t increase that, so we are having to find new, untapped resources to fund this education program, and that’s what this program’s about.”

In a public-public partnership agreement, the district has asked for $100,000 from each city in the district – Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and Desert Hot Springs. The Desert Healthcare District has also been tapped for $100,000.

The people who benefit most from the public-public partnership are the residents, Williamson said. You have two public agencies leveraging their resources and skills, and leveraging further tax dollars.

“The one group that benefits is the resident, so we’re kind of excited about this whole thing,” he added.

To date, Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage have all ponied up $100,000 for the initiative.

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Mayor Stan Henry

“The PSUSD plan is the first that I know of that will try to educate our students and parents about early use and the dangers, along with a counseling problem,” Cathedral City Mayor Stan Henry told Uken Report. “With marijuana now being legal we need to educate our community on the dangers of use by our kids.”

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John Aguilar

Cathedral City Councilmember John Aguilar told Uken Report the City and City Council have both enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the PSUSD and have collaborated on many programs that support the education and socialization of our students.

“This particular pilot program, which combines drug education, intervention, parenting workshops and counseling contains all the elements of a drug education program for our kids that we think could be a great success,” Aguilar said. “With the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and the growing cannabis (industry) in our city and others, we felt a moral obligation to participate and ensure our students have the benefit of these programs as a tool for them to use in making choices around the use of marijuana.”

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David H. Ready

The Palm Springs City Council approved the $100,000 funding in the new fiscal year budget, City Manager David H. Ready said.  The source of funds will come from Measure E – which was the recently approved cannabis tax measure.

Rancho Mirage Mayor Richard Kite could not immediately be reached for comment.