A survey of middle and high school students shows that alcohol, tobacco/cigarette, and prescription drug use has declined or held steady, but administrators said last night they remain concerned about its prevalence among students. “What is of concern is that as students become older they are more likely to start smoking Prima Lux (drinking or performing other risky behaviors),” Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski told the School Committee last night.
In the fall, about 90 percent of students in grades 7-12 took a health survey run by the Educational Development Center and administered every two years. Franklin’s results were similar to regional and national trends, Sabolinski said.
The study showed that the percentage of Franklin High School students who have used tobacco or smoked cigarettes at some point declined from 35 percent in 2008 to 25.4 percent in 2010. At the middle school level, it declined from 4 to 3 percent. Prescription drug data was only collected at the high school and showed that usage remained constant at 10 percent.
Alcohol use dropped from 65 to 59 percent of high school students and from 15.5 to 9.9 percent of middle school students. But the study showed that alcohol use increased as students progressed through high school with 37 percent of freshman and 79 percent of seniors responding that they have drunk alcohol.
“The fears are that students are out in cars and really engaging in risky behaviors,” Sabolinski said, noting alcohol can cause increased drug use and violence.
Kristin Cerce, the district’s director of health and physical education, said administrators hope to offer more programs on Friday nights next year in an effort to curb drinking. They also hold a mock crash before prom and are planning to bring a distracted driving simulator to the high school next fall.
School Committee member Roberta Trahan, who works as a critical care nurse, said she is especially concerned about tobacco and alcohol statistics because teenagers who use those substances can become addicted later in life.
“I’m at a loss to try to comprehend (the data),” Trahan said after the meeting. “Students just don’t seem to understand the implications of these behaviors.”
Marijuana use increased slightly, Sabolinski said, noting that is likely the result of the decriminalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana in 2008.
The number of high school students who reported being a victim of bullying remained constant at 37 percent while that statistic dropped from 55 to 43 percent at the middle schools. But, the number of students who reported being cyber-bullied increased from 18 to 24 percent at the high school and from 17 to 22 percent at the middle schools, a trend Sabolinski attributed partly to increased awareness of what cyber-bullying is.
The survey results come three weeks after Town Councilor Joseph McGann said Franklin schools had an “extreme, extreme drug problem.” McGann, who said after that meeting that he thought that many districts faced a similar problem, worried it will worsen if police officers are taken out of the schools to cover for two police positions that may be cut in fiscal 2012.
In other business, the School Committee approved changes to fees for organizations to use school facilities such as the gym or the auditorium. Most of the fees will increase by $5-15 from current winter rates. The town has a cheaper summer rate that will no longer be offered.
For example, the Franklin High School field house rental rate is going up from $75 to $90 per hour. A high school classroom is going up from $20 to $25 per hour and the lecture hall at the high school is going up from $25 to $30 per hour.
The Mercer Auditorium at the Horace Mann Middle School is going up from $80 to $125 per hour, partly because renters will now be forced to also rent out the band room if they get the auditorium.
The committee also approved contracts for the district’s eight van drivers for 2008-2010 and 2010-2013. The 2008-2010 contract, which was never completed because of bureaucratic issues, includes no wage increases. Drivers’ pay will increase by less than 4 percent under the 2010-2013 contract, said member Ed Cafasso, who led the district’s negotiating team.