S. Portland schools take 'common sense' approach to substance abuse

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The school department has been rolling out a new substance abuse policy this year that is taking a “common sense approach to dealing with substance abuse.”

The policy, which was adopted in May by the Board of Education, is a collaborative effort between the school, police departments and SoPo Unite, according to a news release from the department.

The new policy complies with Maine statutes for Duties of School Boards, which recommends a focus on “positive and restorative” interventions to school discipline rather than punishments and zero-tolerance practices such as immediate out-of-school suspensions.

The strategy also aims to “hold students accountable for their behavior, while working to address the underlying causes of their substance use.

The approach has been shown to be both effective and proactive, by leading to better outcomes for students caught using substances and decreasing the amount of use in districts in general, according to the release. 

Previously, students found using or possessing illegal substances were sent home for six to seven days. During this time, they’d miss school – causing many to fall behind academically – and were often unsupervised. This approach did not address the underlying causes of substance abuse and did not require the offending student to “repair the harm they caused.”

According to the release, these outcomes have been shown to lead to higher drop-out and substance use rates. 

“We regard substance use in the schools or at school activities as a serious threat to student success in schools, and to preserving a safe and orderly school environment,” the release said. “… Therefore, we believe coordinated prevention efforts should be implemented and system-wide procedures established to deal with substance use in the South Portland Schools, and students found using and in possession will be assessed by a behavioral health professional and evidenced-based intervention strategies will be recommended depending on the needs of the student.”