For the first time in a public event, the Public School System admitted that besides the recurring challenge of overcrowding in classrooms due to the system's limited budget, another alarming concern is the lack of student discipline, with more students bringing drugs and alcohol to schools.
Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D., disclosed during Wednesday's legislative summit that issues about the student discipline can also be attributed to the lack of school staff who can guide and assist students with their needs.
PSS has over 10,000 students this school year.
Despite having only a “very small” percentage of students referred for counseling, Sablan said the absence of more school counselors, truant officers, and staff is making life difficult for PSS.
“Student discipline is so small (0.041 percent).but yet very challenging because we see a rise in drug and alcohol use. Students are bringing drugs and alcohol to schools. Some students are high, some students are drunk,” Sablan told a crowd of mostly lawmakers and education officials during the five-hour legislative summit.
Sablan issued an internal memorandum among school leaders in November 2011 regarding the increasing number of students using drugs and marijuana on campuses. She reiterated the system's zero tolerance policy on drug possession and marijuana use in all campuses, especially public high schools.
Saipan Tribune learned that there was a plan that year for unannounced drug checks in all high schools and junior high schools using the Department of Customs' drug detector dogs but that did not happen.
At Hopwood Junior High School, principal Jonas Barcinas said his school has about 20 “repeat offenders” this school year but mostly for using tobacco and betel-but chewing on campus. This is also a decline from last school year's over 40 “offenders.”
Sablan also disclosed that PSS is seeing continued instances of bullying among students.
Another PSS challenges on student discipline is the discovery that many are already betel-nut chewers.
“We see betel-nut chewers as young as kindergarteners! All this are discipline issues that are against board policy. drugs and alcohol are illegal for students,” said Sablan.
She expressed hope that her revelations will galvanize lawmakers to give PSS the budget it needs.
Since budget cuts were implemented at PSS, filling replacement positions and hiring new support staff have been affected. Schools' budget constraints hampered their ability to hire vice principals, counselors, classroom teachers, support staff, and program managers.
PSS is also dealing with classroom overcrowding, with teacher-to-student ratio of up to 1:32 such as at Garapan Elementary School. The ideal ratio is 25:1.
Sablan also bared the schools' lack of necessary materials and equipment such as for chemistry and math laboratories.
Operating career technology programs such as the trades program, she said, is also just “too expensive” to continue at this time.
Despite upgrades in electrical and air-conditioning units, students are only allowed to use these equipment up to four hours daily.
Sablan said that PSS' sufferings can only be remedied if an adequate budget will be appropriated for education. PSS proposes a $40-million budget for next fiscal year, with the primary aim to restore 100 positions it lost last school year.
Sablan said that the increasing number of enrollees in public schools is beyond the system's control as it is mandated to accommodate all children who want to avail of a free education.