Factbook documents' students behaviors

August 04, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Health Department plans to work with law enforcement personnel to investigate reported increases in the number of students who binge drink and who are suspended from school for violence-related offenses, Health Officer William Christoffel said Monday.

The increases are among the changes documented in an annual publication that the Health Department examines to help track possible health problems in the county, Christoffel said.

The book, Kids Count Factbook Maryland 2004, is the result of a collaborative effort by nonprofit and government groups.

According to the publication, the percentage of Washington County 10th-graders who reported having five or more drinks on one occasion within the month before they were surveyed increased from 16.6 percent in 1992 to 21.8 percent in 2002.


Christoffel said he will talk to local law enforcement personnel to see if they can find out where the students are getting the alcohol and whether the laws against underage drinking could be enforced more stringently.

He said the increase in alcohol consumption could be related to reports that teenagers are less inclined to use illegal drugs.

Parents who won't let their children use illegal drugs are sometimes more tolerant of them drinking alcohol, Ed Masood, supervisor of arts, health and physical education and athletics for Washington County Public Schools, said Tuesday.

There has been a correlation in the past between programs aimed at reminding students and parents of the dangers of binge drinking and reductions in binge drinking statistics, he said.

While the 21.8 percent number is higher than the school system would like, there have been times when the number was higher, Masood said.

The Kids Count book notes that the rate of Washington County students per 1,000 students suspended for violence-related offenses increased from 17.8 percent in 1992-1993 to 38.8 percent in 2001-2002. The number of students suspended went from 326 in 1992-1993 to 775 in 2001-2002.

In recent years, there was a dramatic increase in the amount of attention paid to violence, bullying and harassment in the schools, Masood said. And the state and federal governments have changed the amount of documentation school systems must provide on school violence, he said.

Determining whether student violence has increased or whether the numbers are up because more violent incidents are being reported will require study and discussions with school system officials, Christoffel said.

Similarly, Christoffel said, reports in the book of an increase in cases of child abuse and neglect could be the result of such incidents being reported more frequently than in the past.

Aggressive enforcement by the Washington County Department of Social Services also may be a factor, he said.

Christoffel said there is a correlation between child abuse and neglect and parents who are teenagers.

Washington County's rate of teen pregnancies is an issue that the Health Department has spent a great deal of time examining, Christoffel said.

The book says the number of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 who gave birth increased from 179 in 1995 to 231 in 2002.

While the Health Department and other agencies have pointed out that the level of teen pregnancy is a community problem, "no one is taking ownership," Christoffel said. "The community has not accepted teen pregnancy as an issue."

Not all of the news in the report is negative.

The report says the percentage of parents who pay their court-ordered child support has increased, he said.

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