Heidi Zemach for SCN
Nine students from Seward High School have been caught smoking, or in possession of marijuana on school grounds or within the school’s Drug Free Zone. The first case involved four students, caught by local police during the early part of the second week of school, August 27-31st, said Seward Police Chief Tom Clemons. Then, another five students were caught by police in a separate incident later the same week. All of the cases were turned over to the Juvenile Justice Department for prosecution, and are no longer in the hands of local police department, he said.
Any specifics on the case, or on the punishment that these teens will receive by the courts, will not be made public as they are minors, and their court records will be sealed. But because of the location of the offense, these youngsters may have found themselves in much more trouble than they realized, Clemons explained.
While being in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is generally legal in Alaska, the state’s laws regarding minors using drugs inside its Drug Free Zones are quite harsh. Drug Free Zone’s extend 500 feet beyond a school’s boundaries, and also applies to youth recreation centers and even school buses. A minor found in possession of drugs such as marijuana inside a drug-free zone doesn’t just face a misdemeanor charge, but the drug-free zone location can automatically bump the charge up to the felony level, according to SPD.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District media spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said the district follows all board of education policies. But she would not confirm that there were any suspensions of high school students in Seward due to federal FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) laws. Rather, she referred those interested in learning more about KPB Board Policy to research the matter themselves, especially BP5030, on School Discipline and Safety, which allows for the suspension of students in violation of various drug policy for up to 45 days.
The police participate in the DARE Program in the schools, and will offer the Junior Police Academy again this year. Despite threats of cutbacks, officer Alan Nichols is still working with students from inside the high school. The recent incidents of minors caught on minor drug charges aren’t anything new for Seward, Clemons said. What’s new however is the number of students involved, at school, within a single week.