District needs to root out bad behavior, moms say
Dirty dancing, drugs and foul language — three mothers with teens enrolled in Mountain View High School are concerned that the school district is not consistently enforcing its rules against drug and alcohol use, immodest dancing and music, profanity and inappropriate dress.
Tabitha Hanson, Christy Reed and Dr. Sara Robinson brought their concerns to the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's board of trustees at a recent public meeting and implored the district's leaders to reevaluate how the current rules are enforced and to even consider ratcheting up enforcement in some instances. After conducting an informal survey of 34 students, Hanson, Reed and Robinson recommended a number of measures — ranging from stricter dress-code enforcement to having drug-sniffing dogs at the door of every school dance.
"We feel it's worth a second look at how effectively the behavioral standards are being enforced" at district schools, Reed wrote in an email to the Voice. "No doubt there is some enforcement, but the consistency and level of that enforcement we feel is worth the district board examining."
They described things they had heard from their children and the other students they talked to for their survey: stories of "pills," marijuana and alcohol being consumed at or before school dances, of teens dancing provocatively and inappropriately, of profane songs being played at the dances and of teachers looking the other way when students violated the dress code or used vulgar language.
The trustees assured the group that there are already rules in place for such behavior, and that the district is already doing its best to enforce those rules. Superintendent Barry Groves said he would consider their recommendations.
"We believe that our drug and alcohol use is higher than we want it to be," Groves told the Voice. "We don't want any."
But, he added, there has been no significant spike in drug use or any other prohibited behavior at any of the district's high schools recently.
Melissa Reed, a junior at MVHS and the school's student council school board representative, said she respected the opinions of Hanson, Reed and Robinson, but is concerned that some of their recommendations are onerous. While the dress code and prohibition on foul language might be more consistently enforced, the idea of putting a uniformed officer with a drug dog at the entrance to school dances was troubling, she said.
Groves said he is concerned with the kind of environment it would create if drug-sniffing dogs greeted students at the door of the winter social.
"We try to treat our students, as best we can, as adults," he said. "Although, we do understand they are not adults yet."
In essence, he said his philosophy is that unless the students give him a reason to want to increase preventative measures, he won't. "They have not shown us a need for that."
Groves said putting drug dogs at the door to a dance wouldn't even necessarily be effective, as students could have picked up the smell of pot, for example, from a wide variety of places without ever consuming the substance. "Would it be fair to search a student like that?" Groves asked rhetorically.
The school district already randomly issues breathalyzer tests to students coming into school dances.
Hanson, Reed and Robinson shared statistics they said demonstrated that there might be a good reason to introduce additional measures. They pointed to a California Healthy Kids Study, which showed that drug and alcohol use was higher in the MVLA district than it in the neighboring districts of Palo Alto and Los Gatos.
Groves added two caveats to that study. It was conducted in 2009, and, he said, just because the districts are located close to MVLA, doesn't mean they are similar in their student composition. In fact, they are not, he said.
Groves said that some of the information gathered by the three women was came out of a questionnaire that was given to "only 34, non-randomly selected students" out of the approximately 3,600 in the district.
The women recommended adding an "anti-drug" message to the district's current drug education program, saying that the way the curriculum is currently worded, only facts about drugs are laid out and there is little effort made in overtly discouraging drug abuse.
"That's not true," Groves said of his district's drug education program, which he believes makes a very concise case against using drugs. He said he would not want to institute a program that puts forth claims about drugs that distort the facts in an effort to scare kids. Such programs run the risk of alienating teens and causing them not to trust the very people who are meant to educate them, he said.
Hanson said her group worked for more than 100 hours compiling the information they presented to the board.
Hanson, Reed and Robinson plan to talk to the student councils at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools — something Melissa Reed said she was "disappointed" hadn't already happened. She is convinced that at least some of the concerns might be resolved that way.
"Our district has the highest alcohol and marijuana use among the three surrounding districts we looked at," Robinson said. "That should be sobering, and it should prompt us to try to do better for those teens."