MERCED -- A report documenting 2009-10 student safety within the Merced Union High School District showed a mixed bag compared with the previous school year.
Student discipline cases involving violence, drugs and expulsions increased this past year in the seven- campus district.
But the number of students punished for gang-related behaviors, bullying and vandalism, as well as the number of days students were suspended, decreased by 5 percent.
This past school year there were 46 more fights than the previous year and there were 20 more disciplinary cases dealing with drugs and alcohol, according to the report.
Kelly Bentz, the district's program administrator for child welfare and safety, said at a board meeting last week that more students were caught selling drugs on campus this past year than in previous years.
In a lot of these cases, the drugs were prescription medications, she added. And many of the students involved in drug-related offenses were sophomores.
Since 2007, the number of drug and alcohol offenses has increased from 155 to 258.
George Sziraki, assistant superintendent of educational services, said he wasn't sure why the numbers increased.
Intoxication, possession big factors
Most of the cases involving drugs or alcohol had to do with kids coming to school intoxicated or students in possession of illegal drugs on campus, he added.
Aside from this past year's spike, violence on campus had been on the decline since 2005. Sziraki said he wasn't sure why fighting increased, but he suspected some of the fights were gang-related.
District officials said they planned to reduce the number of fights on campus through character education and refining the district's anger management program.
" 'Embedding Character Counts' in our program has given some kids more respect for the level of diversity that comprises our school," Sziraki said.
To lessen the number of students using drugs or alcohol, district officials said they planned to refine the student referral process for the county's department of Mental Health Department.
The district will apply for a Tobacco-Use Prevention Education grant to acquire drug and alcohol prevention resources, such as school speakers and counselors to educate students about the dangers of substance abuse.
District officials were proud of its success in curtailing the number of incidents of bullying and threats, which reached an all-time high in 2008-09 with 484 incidents reported. This past year, there were 344.
In 2008-09, the district passed a policy giving district administrators authority to punish students for acts of cyberbullying or harassment of another student through electronic communication, even after school hours.
The act brought the district's policies in line with a state law passed early last year.
Sziraki said he imagines the decline in the number of bullying incidents was related to teachers being more proactive about potential eruptions and the character education program.
"I think we have fairly safe campuses," he said. "One of our commitments to our board is safety."