The Webster City juvenile court school liaison program saw a 230 percent increase in referrals since last year, according to liaison Heather Kierzek. The program, which encompasses Webster City schools and began in 1995, saw 42 referrals from the high school, 10 from the middle school and three from elementary schools.
Kierzek said economic recession and drug use were contributing factors to the increase. She said kids don't believe it's a big deal to drink or use marijuana.
"Drugs are affecting our kids greatly and it's a huge concern for me right now," Kierzek said.
Synthetic marijuana and bath salts, both of which can be obtained legally, were also cited as problems at schools and surrounding areas in Kierzek's report to the school district's board of directors meeting last night.
She said drug recognition training and training on field sobriety tests for teachers could help reduce incidents at school and would also help a ruling stand in court if a student was suspended for drug use.
"I feel as a district we should be doing more," Kierzek said. "I'm not sure what that more is at this point other than more education for our teachers and more training for those of us dealing with it day in and day out."
Superintendent Mike Sherwood said the increase was pressing. However, he noted the program referred 42 students in a school of about 575 and said that perspective was important.
Students are referred for many reasons, including law violations, attendance, behavior and mental health issues. The juvenile court school liaison program assists these at-risk students with academics, attendance and disciplinary action. Kierzek assists students in dealing with past choices and educates them on their options available to meet their needs without criminal activity.
In addition, Kierzek said there was a huge increase in homeless students since last year. Forty-eight students classified as homeless, up from 21. Drugs, money problems and disagreements with parents were reported as leading to homeless situations. Students living at a motel or with family after losing a home are included in this list.
There was also a marked increase in truancy last year, according to Kierzek. She said some students simply walked out during school hours. She said disciplinary action was not always given to these students.