Sex, drugs, and education: An inside look at Hawaii’s schools

Jade Eckardt

HONOLULU—When the school day starts, parents expect that their children to have a day of structured learning with friends on a campus where students are looked after and behavior is monitored. Yet somehow, even with teachers who do care, campus security, locked gates, and fenced-in areas, there will be misguided, be it determined, students who find ways to be deviant, bringing sex and drugs to the campus.

The Hawaii Independent spoke in depth with a few teachers throughout the state who were willing to talk candidly about some of the more outrageous things they’ve seen on Hawaii’s campuses. In providing these candid recollections, many of these teachers requested to remain anonymous.

These stories remind us that regardless of what we strive for, sex and drug use does happen at school. Campus security and cell phone privileges aside, many parents and teachers say home is where prevention should start.

“The stuff I’ve seen on campus would make for a great dirty teen drama show,” says a Hawaii Island teacher, who recalled an incident on a campus she once taught at. “Four years ago, a 10th grade female student was busted for running a campus prostitution ring and so were the other students involved. She was making money setting up female classmates with male students who paid for sexual favors and eventually one of the girls involved confessed everything to her parents.”

The Hawaii Island teacher warns parents to remember that the campus environment isn’t always safe and that children need to be educated at home on issues like sex and drugs.

“I’ve had the elevator doors open to two students putting on a condom who I proceeded to drag out and bring to the office,” the Hawaii Island teacher says. “Cocaine in school isn’t uncommon these days and I’ve even found a syringe in the stairwell. Marijuana, well that’s got to be the least of the worries for what kids are doing in school today and that’s been in schools forever.”

In 2009, 46 percent of high school students had sexual intercourse and 13.8 percent had four or more sex partners during their life, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Prior to the sexual activity, 21.6 percent drank alcohol or used drugs. Only 38.9 percent used a condom.

To see more statistics by the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, click here

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10 percent of American youths aged 12 to 17 were current illicit drug users in 2009—7.3 percent used marijuana, 3.1 percent engaged in nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutics, 1.0 percent used inhalants, 0.9 percent used hallucinogens, and 0.3 percent used cocaine.

For the latest national survey results, click here

In Hawaii, it’s estimated that 10,000 children aged 12 to 17 have used an illicit drug in the past month (the National Survey on Drug Use and Health bases that estimate on the 2007-2008 results). The definition of “illicit drugs” in the survey refers to marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically.

Despite what the estimates may say, another Hawaii Island teacher, who has been teaching for 12 years, says that stricter guidelines have kept deviancy somewhat under control.

“It used to be that kids getting busted for some marijuana or other drugs often wouldn’t usually see legal action,” the teacher says. “The evidence would disappear because security would take the marijuana home, the kid’s parent’s would be called, and a lot of times that would be it. Thanks to Chapter 19, we’ve seen much more attention and punishment come to students engaging in drugs on campus.”

Chapter 19 of the Hawaii Administrative Rules regards “student misconduct, discipline, school searches and seizures, reporting offenses, police interviews and arrests, and restitution vandalism” in public schools. The document is distributed to all families from second grade up at the beginning of the school year. 

To read the text of Chapter 19, click here

“Ever since Chapter 19 came into play, things have gotten a lot tighter on campus. Students still do deviant things for sure, but 19 has helped the campuses clean up a lot,” the teacher says. She added that before Chapter 19 was implemented, “students usually just got a slap on the wrist and a short suspension or even in school suspension. Now, cops come, it’s a legal thing.” 

Chapter 19 states that any student who possesses, sells, or uses intoxicating substances or illicit drugs while attending school may be expelled for up to 92 school days and the school shall administer a substance-use screening tool to determine whether there is a need for the student to be referred for a substance abuse assessment.

Although 92 days is the maximum suspension, Hawaii’s public school students who get caught with illegal drugs commonly receive an automatic 45 day suspension. Drug treatment is arranged at varying treatment centers depending on the island (Hawaii Island offenders are sent to Big Island Substance Abuse Council) for intensive and outpatient substance abuse treatment. When the offending students get their intake analysis, they can petition against the evidence.

“We’ve got parents who have their medical marijuana license, and then the kids come to school with weed,” the Hawaii Island teacher says. “The crazy thing isn’t the kids here. The parents come in and say, what’s the problem? We’ve got our license to grow why are you busting my kid? That’s when it gets crazy and child protective services and foster care gets involved.” 

And the law demands that teachers respond appropriately.

Under Chapter 19, officials and school employees who witness or have legitimate reason to believe an offense took place are required to report the offense. Chapter 19 states that failure to report class A or class B offenses occurring in school bring consequences for the teacher including an oral or written warning, suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal. Class A offenses include possession or use of a dangerous substance; use or possession of drug paraphernalia; sexual offenses; and possession, use, or sale of illicit drugs.

Even with the law leaning against illegal behavior, teens acknowledge that drugs are fairly easy to come by. Twenty-nine percent of teens in grades 9 through 12 report that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property, according to Meanwhile 38 percent of teens in public schools reported that drugs are readily available to them elsewhere. According to the teen help site, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, barbiturates, and crack are the most accessible drugs to teen students.

“It’s a toss up. It must come down to personality or individual desire to be good or bad.”

Teachers say that technological advances such as cellular phones and social networking sites have only made matters worse when it comes to sex and drugs on campus.

In a report published by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) in late August, teens aged 12 to 17 who use social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace are likelier to use drugs and alcohol. CASA found that compared to teens who spend no time on social networking sites in a day, teens that do are five times likelier to use tobacco, three times likelier to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana.

“Students used to have to actually get together to engage in sexual activities and they had to meet up to exchange drugs for money,” says an Oahu public school turned home school teacher. “Now, they can text where the dealers are going to leave the drugs. They post photos of drug and alcohol use and of a sexual nature online, and text all this stuff too.”

Dubbed “sexting,” texting of a sexual nature is not uncommon for teenagers. Headlines were made this month when police discovered two dozen Vermont students involved in a sexting ring where female students would text photos to the boys, who would then upload the photos and distribute them on school issued computers.

Hawaii is no different, teachers say. But it’s not just cell phone based.

One Hawaii teacher reports a female student being caught having sex on campus three days in a row, with a different male student each time. “They were in the bathroom each time,” the teacher says. “We told the parents she needed help. They said it was our fault, but the same girl with three different boys points to another issue.”

Chapter 19 says inappropriate physical contact includes, but is not limited to, consensual sex or consensual touching of body parts, or both.

“You know, I feel surprised and disappointed with a lot of kids, simply shocked with what they’re doing, their attitude, their behavior,” says one teacher from Kahuku High School. “Then you meet the parents and you realize these kids are actually doing pretty damn good considering who raised them.”

He added: “It’s a toss up. It must come down to personality or individual desire to be good or bad. Some kids are doing so much better than their parents, and some parents who appear pretty together have some pretty crazy kids.” 

Another Hawaii Island high school recently busted a mother-son drug dealing team that had taken the campus by storm for two school years. “The mother was a heroin addict and a pill dealer and the son was dealing the pills on school grounds. He had a very lucrative business going, I might add,” says a ninth grade teacher on the same campus.

A Central Oahu mother sees the value in a good home environment to help students make good decisions at school. “One day my 13-year-old daughter came home from school and told me that the girls were wearing colored bracelets, different colors announcing to boys how far they would go sexually.” The mother explained that in an effort to prevent her daughter from joining the trend, she talked to her daughter—and made sure to keep talking. 

The mother explains: “What was I supposed to do? Take her out [of her current school], just to put her in another school where the same thing is probably going on? I think it comes down to communication, and educating them about things that the school apparently isn’t. Those campuses are a world of their own where these kids learn to work their way around. You’ve got to talk to them and support them in good choices.”

Teachers agree.

“The best thing is for parents to be aware,” says the Kahuku High School teacher. “They need not be shy about talking about sex and drugs with their kids. That’s the best shot they have, dealing with it at home.”

He adds: “The option to do bad things in school always has been, and always will be there. Kids just have to know better.”