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School board explores ban on synthetic marijuana


March 07, 2012
A developing trend at Gilford High School and in the surrounding community prompted School Board members to begin a new effort Monday night to ban synthetic marijuana products from school grounds, and eventually the entire town.

According to a letter from GHS Interim Principal Bob Pedersen and Deb Laliberte, Gilford drug and alcohol taskforce chair, four students under the influence of synthetic marijuana products have "demonstrated severe overdose symptoms requiring medical attention." Since then, school officials have learned that many students are using these products, which anyone 18-years-old or older may legally purchase. They also learned that students are abusing prescription drugs, and that some are suffering from addiction problems.

"This is not just a school concern — it is a community concern," said Laliberte during the school board meeting Monday nigh. "We need to take a proactive step. We don't want this in our community."

According to Laliberte, students have used these synthetic marijuana products in the library, and have come to school under the influence.

Police Chief Kevin Keenan said Gilford officers and have come across these products on a number of occasions, but the substances are difficult to police because they are legal to sell.

Keenan and Laliberte explained that these products are sold as incense and labeled "not for human consumption," but this is just a legality. Keenan said he spoke with Town Administrator Scott Dunn, who supported the idea of a town ordinance banning the sale of these products in Gilford. Dunn was, however, concerned with the authority of the Board of Selectmen to ban a legal substance.

School Board members said they would look into banning the possession and use of synthetic marijuana products on school property, and would support a town ordinance to prohibit the sale in the community.

In other news, GHS Assistant Principal Peter Sawyer said the cell phone trial period was a success, though he saw an increase of 12 violations. With the added privileges came stiffer penalties, and students received two-hour detentions for their violations.

School Board members voted to implement the new policy, which would allow non-academic cell phone use between classes and during lunch breaks. Sawyer hoped that this would make students less likely to use their phones during classes if they knew they could check their messages after the bell.

For Student recognition, Superintendent Kent Hemingway invited a group of fourth grade students who were studying Colonial Trades. These students included Colton, a blacksmith; Alana, a shoemaker; Sophie, an apothecary; and TJ, a tanner. Each student explained their services to the community and their tools they commonly used.

Board Chairman Kurt Webber asked students if, after their studies, wanted to live during colonial times; they all responded "no," as they found life was tough back then.

Hemmingway said this project was part of an integrated learning effort that brings in skills from several subjects like social studies, science and English.

During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, budget committee member Kevin Leandro expressed his disagreement with the statistics of the school budget over the past four years. He referenced a phone conversation with Hemingway which he said went well, but added he was "appalled by the dishonesty" he perceived in the board's efforts to claim that it has reduced the budget three out of the past four years when, according to Leandro, expenditures have climbed steadily.

School board members were confused by Leandro's claim about the four-year budget statistic, and Webber said he did not appreciate Leandro's comment about dishonesty.

"I am not a liar," said Webber sternly.

Leandro became upset and raised his voice. He expressed his concern over this issue several times through the public input portion of the meeting

In a similarly agitated tone, Doug Lambert, a candidate for school board this year, expressed his concern over two polices regarding parents' right to petition the school board over course material.

According to Hemingway and Webber, the policies do not take rights away from parents, as they could still talk to the superintendent and the local change came about change in state policy.

Lambert also protested the public comment policy, claiming that school board members had already voted on policy changes before the had a chance to comment. School board members explained that the policies voted on that night were read at the previous meeting, and residents had a month to give their input.

Martin Lord Osman
Northern Human Services
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Coos County Department of Corr
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