Worry Trumps Trust… Trust Me!
What steps can school leaders take to keep our students and our schools safe from drugs? How can we give students the tools they need to keep themselves, their peers and their school community free of dangerous substances? How can we support good decision-making? What roles do parents, school officials, and local authorities play in this quest for community safety? How can we work together on our student’s behalf? How can we act on our worries & hopes for our kids?
I begin with a true story:
Last week at Lawrence Upper School we invited the Summit County Sheriff’s department to bring in a K-9 officer and drug enforcement dog to check our parking lot and our grade 11-12 common area for drugs. Our team was a German Sheppard named Ammo and his partner Sgt. Todd Rodriguez. Both officers were extremely professional and did their work during a lockdown that lasted about 20 minutes.
Members of the administrative team accompanied the police team. The search was announced to students and faculty only minutes before it started. Teachers were given written instructions about the lockdown and how to answer students’ questions regarding the search.
Afterward, we gathered all the students together for a meeting to discuss the search, and an email blast went out to parents that afternoon explaining that the search had taken place.
Ammo turned up no evidence that drugs were present in the student cars or lockers. We were relieved at this result. Not because we were suspicious of anyone, but because we worry – just as parents do. And worry, someone has written, is a form of prayer.
If you are the parent of an adolescent, or an administrator in a school, worry trumps trust. So, when our kids accuse us – as they might if we check their rooms or their lockers for contraband – and say “you don’t trust me,” my response is, “Of course we trust you. But we worry more!”
And if we really push our kids to be honest with us and with themselves, there are plenty of reasons for us to be worried. When we understand and acknowledge our obligations to keep students safe – worry trumps trust.
We searched because we worry that there could be kids who are getting high outside of school and who might bring drugs on campus to share with or impress friends. We worry about the opportunities that our students have and the pressures they are exposed to and encounter daily in the wide world that could offer them opportunities to experiment with illegal or dangerous substances. And we have good reason to worry.
Lawrence has done K-9 searches before – prior to the move to the new Upper School. Several students in the high school program were found to be in possession and serious discipline was required and imposed.
Do you think such searches keep the school safe?
Naturally there was a range of responses by parents and students to the search. Some supportive, some questioning why it was necessary.
A sample of the questions we received:
- Why did you (Lawrence) take this step? Did you have suspicions or evidence that there were students who were using drugs, or who were in possession of drugs? Wasn’t there a way to do this that did not require using the police?
- Don’t you trust your students? Or don’t you consider such a search a violation of students’ rights to privacy?
- What would you do if you found evidence that drugs had been present in a locker, but no actual violation of the code of conduct was revealed at the time of the search?
These are all good questions.
Like many schools, the search (enforcement) was only one part of a comprehensive, multi-faceted program of education, counseling and enforcement of our substance abuse prevention program and policy at Lawrence school and our commitment to sustaining a safe, learning environment for all our students.
As I noted above, trust is not the most important consideration when it comes to keeping kids safe – or ensuring the safety of a community. What comes to mind is a Bedouin proverb: “Trust in Allah… but tie your camel.” Or Margaret Spelling’s now famous, “In God we Trust… all others bring data!”
We all know that the data regarding how many students in middle and high school are exposed to opportunities and even pressures to use or try drugs pushes the word “trust” off the radar screen.
Students do not have a presumption of privacy at Lawrence School because we have clearly spelled out in our handbooks what the rules are regarding their cars and lockers. We reserve the right to search these areas for contraband even though we exercise it relatively rarely.
Truth be told, I don’t know if such measures keep our kids safe. But I worry that if we did not do these things – if we did not have a comprehensive program that included education, prevention, counseling, as well as clear policies and consistent communication and enforcement – that we might create a space where some students might feel ok about using drugs or engaging in risky behaviors.
As for trust? Yes, we trust our kids! There is so much that we do with them and rely on them for –and so much they do every day that indicates they are reliable constructive citizens; focused, positive participants in their communities. Lawrence School is a very positive environment because our students are helpful and supportive to one another, and they are focused and motivated to learn and succeed. They value the close relationships they have with their teachers and coaches.
My hope (along with my worry) is that we communicate to our kids in clear, consistent, understanding terms about our worries and hopes. I am proud to serve as Head in a school community that provides students with the structure and opportunities to talk with us before there is an emergency or a crisis, so that they can learn more about themselves – and how to manage the pressures they face.
Those of us who agree to accept responsibility for students and for schools must acknowledge and acquit our obligations to create and maintain a safe learning environment. We must do this with courage and care so that students can trust us to act consistently with this obligation.
Worry trumps trust—and worry is a form of prayer.Lou Salza Head of Lawrence School