PERU — Regional School Unit 56 directors were told Tuesday that there is a “pretty serious” substance abuse problem among students at Dirigo High School and drug searches should be done consistently.

“We have a substance abuse problem in our student body population, a pretty serious one that far exceeds the state averages,” Assistant Principal Jason Long said.

He and Principal Michael Poulin shared data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, a collaboration between the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Department of Education. Its purpose is to quantify the health of kindergarten and third-grade students through parent interviews, and the health-related behaviors and attitudes of fifth- through 12t -graders by direct student survey.

Among the questions and answers were:

• “How much do you think people risk harming themselves (physically or in other ways) if they take a prescription drug that is not prescribed to them?”

19.7 percent of Dirigo students said those drugs posed low or no risk, compared to the statewide average of 13.2 percent.

• “During the past 30 days, how many times did you use marijuana?”

27.8 percent of Dirigo students said at least once, compared to the statewide average of 19.3.

• “During the past 12 months has anyone offered, sold or given you an illegal drug on school property?”

28.1 percent of Dirigo students answered yes, compared to statewide average of 19.5 percent.

“I am not surprised by this,” Long said. “We knew last fall we had an issue (when) we ran (drug search) canines for the first time in history.”

He said he thought drugs on school property “should be lower now and if not, I’ll be discouraged because this figure represents the school year where we knew we had a problem and then we applied an intervention.”

Poulin agreed with Long’s comments about the need for canine drug searches at the high school.

“The effectiveness of canine search when we did it for the first time back in the fall of 2016, I think the shock factor was pretty strong, Poulin said. “I think we strongly need to take it into consideration (to) have one in the 2017-18 school year.”

In other matters before the board, varsity baseball coach Ryan Palmer spoke of his desire to form a junior varsity baseball team at the high school by raising money.

The district eliminated all junior varsity sports at the high school and junior high school to lower the budget this year.

During a school board meeting in January, Superintendent Pam Doyen said because of a federal law “there must be an equal amount of access for females and males in the school system, and fundraising could impact the equity law because they’re not raising funds for softball, only for junior varsity baseball.”

School board director Angela Varnum of Dixfield said there was community interest in raising money for a junior varsity softball team, but ‘sign-ups’ for the sport were needed to know if there was enough student interest.

“If we fund one, and the other one has enough numbers, we have to do it, and if they don’t fundraise (the district has) to fund it,” Director Bruce Ross of Dixfield said.

The board will decide Feb. 26 whether to have junior varsity baseball and softball teams, after the sign-ups for the sports.

The board also held a moment of silence for teacher Joyce Elliott, who passed away Feb. 4. She taught at Meroby Elementary School in Mexico and Dixfield schools.

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Dirigo High School Assistant Principal Jason Long speaks at a Regional School Unit 56 board of directors meeting in November. (Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times)