How easy is it for Hatboro-Horsham High School students to obtain alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and heroin – and how often are these substances used?
Jeff Tomlinson, the district’s director of safety, hopes that the 1,631 students will be able to answer those questions and others as part of an anonymous – and completely voluntary - two-page survey.
“What we’ve tried to do is take a step back and look at an issue from a different way. What goes on in their world from their view,” Tomlinson said of students. “Can we learn from the students at the high school and pass those lessons on to the students at the middle school and at the elementary school?”
That is the hope shared by Tomlinson, a retired FBI agent, and other district officials involved with the substance abuse awareness program, Be A Part of the Conversation. Tomlinson discussed the potential survey with the Hatboro-Horsham School Board Monday night. The board took no formal action.
If the board opts to move forward, parents of high school students would receive permission slips. Parents who do not want their child to participate would return the slip to the school prior to the tentative May 3 survey, which Tomlinson said would be conducted in first period.
The plan is for the survey to be handed out and collected by students, he said.
“The idea is anonymous, anonymous, anonymous,” Tomlinson said.
The survey would not cost the district any money, but would take some time to analyze results afterward, particularly if all, or most of the high school’s population participates, he said.
During his presentation, Tomlinson made several references to a Columbia University survey concerning teens and substance abuse as well as the Pennsylvania Youth Survey,which polls students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades on drugs, alcohol, tobacco and violence.
Reinforcing, or refuting the findings of those surveys is not the intent, Tomlinson told Patch afterward, noting, “I want to be open to the data.”
Instead, he said the hope is to identify trends and patterns of substance abuse and help pinpoint risk factors. Some correlations referenced from related studies have shown, for instance, that students who work more than 15 hours a week are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and kids who start smoking before age 13 are twice as likely to abuse substances, he said.
Hatboro-Horsham High School Student Council President Molly Mulligan, who was in attendance Monday when the survey was discussed, said she thinks some of her peers may have “qualms” with being honest on a survey conducted by the administration.
Student Meredith Lightstone said she liked that the district was taking steps to “make it more anonymous.”
And while officials consider surveying students on substance abuse, Horsham resident Gary Conner said the board should adopt a zero tolerance policy and carry out random drug tests of its teachers and faculty as well.
“Those most important people we’re not taking care of in the proper way,” Conner said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”