A fact of growing up is that students aren't always going to make the right choices.
Unfortunately, that can sometimes include drugs and alcohol.
That's why Norfolk Public Schools has procedures in place to deal with the issue and why the school tries to build strong relationships with students.
"We're pretty attuned to how the day-to-day things go with kids,” said Jake Luhr, Norfolk High principal. “If we see a drastic change in kids' attendance or their behavior in school, maybe they're withdrawing from their circle of friends or academically they're just starting to tank or things like that, we ... try to be as proactive as we possibly can, making sure that the kids are making good choices."
But if they slip up, and are caught with or under the influence of drugs or alcohol on school property, or a concern about substance abuse is raised by a fellow student or teacher, a report comes to one of the high school's assistant principals — Erik Wilson or Jason Settles.
The next step is having a conversation with that student.
"That gives us just a one-on-one checking them out," Wilson said. "Are they slurring their speech? How are they acting? If they're acting fine, if things are looking like they're OK, we have a conversation with them that it was brought to our attention that you're under the influence of something, why would that be brought to our attention? Is there something going on? Is there something going on at home that your eyes are bloodshot?You're tired? You're not sleeping?"
But if there is reasonable suspicion that something might be going on, a student might be asked to empty his or her pockets, or a locker may be searched or possibly a car if it is on school property.
"The other part of that is we would refer them to our SCIP committee if we believe there is some help that they do need," Wilson said.
SCIP stands for School Community Intervention Program. The committee consists of Luhr, Wilson, Settles, School Resource Officer Dave Lichtenberg and a school counselor.
They'll discuss what they're seeing and compile information. Documentation can then be shared with parents.
Overall, Luhr said, the process is discreet as the committee members want to protect the privacy of students at all times. The main desire is that if students need help, they get it.
That's why SCIP works with the school's guidance counselors and local mental health agencies to provide screenings for substance abuse or mental health issues.
"During that first official screening, it could be recommended that they continue with treatment for mental health or substance abuse or whatever comes up in that screening," Settles said. "Then those families can make a decision whether they want to continue treatment or what the right time is for what the type of counseling would be."
There is a stiff penalty, though, if students break the school's code of conduct with drugs or alcohol. It's a 10- to 19-day out-of-school suspension.
This means the student wouldn't be allowed on campus or at any school activities. However, since the school provides students with laptop computers, it tries to coordinate with students so they can continue with their academics even though they can't physically be on campus.
Additionally, if a criminal case needs to be brought, Lichtenberg will do so.
"Our main goal is that we get that kid plugged in to some form of help because if they're under the influence or bringing that stuff to school there's concerns that you have a pretty significant problem there in the kid’s life if they're making those choices," Luhr said.
That's why Lichtenberg said the school was thankful to have local agency partners, such as the Madison County Juvenile Accountability Center.
That's what the school works with if a problem is detected after the initial screening. The center can also be worked with if finances are a concern in terms of continuing treatment.
"I don't think the general public knows all they do — the wrap-around services." Lichtenberg said. "They have filled a need for us that has been there for years."
The high school also works with the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department. Through grants, the department helps the school fund an Eight to Great program for all freshman. Among other things, the program touches on substance abuse.
The school also collaborates with the Norfolk Police Division. For example, drug sniffing dogs will be brought in at random when it fits into the schedule.
The goal is go be proactive, though Luhr said drug and alcohol issues only arise occasionally throughout the school year.
"We try to be as proactive as we can be because it's easier to fix it before it happens," Lichtenberg said. "And we've seen some good successes and a few failures. That's part of it. But overall some real good successes (because of) building those relationships, showing that we care."