More teens are coming to high school, New York teachers say

Since Justin, a 15-year-old high school student, tried marijuana on his birthday two years ago, he’s been smoking almost every day, multiple times a day, he said.

“If I smoke a blunt, after that blunt, I’m going to be cool,” he said one recent morning at a grocery store near his school, the Bronx Design and Construction Academy. “I’m not going to stress over nothing at all.”

Another boy came and flashed two glass tubes of flower to smoke. More students were smoking across the street in a doorway and on a stoop. In another corner, a smoking room frequented by children in backpacks and uniforms opened about half an hour before the first bell.

Although it has long been common for some teens to smoke marijuana, teachers and students say more and more younger students are smoking throughout the day and at school.

There are few definitive data on marijuana use in children, and the information available can sometimes paint a contradictory picture. Disciplinary data from the city’s Education Department reflects a 10% increase in alcohol and drug offenses this year compared to 2019. But a city survey found cannabis use among teenagers had declined by 2021, the same year the state legalized recreational marijuana. , the lowest level recorded since the question was added to the survey in 1997.

Yet two dozen students and teachers from public, private and charter schools across the city said in interviews that some classrooms were messy as more students showed up late. and raised.

They said that with the proliferation of unlicensed tobacco shops and the availability of vape pens and edibles, cannabis has never been more accessible and discreet. They relayed tales of students taking hits from vape pens when teachers turned their backs, of bathrooms and stairwells becoming smoking lounges, and of the smell of weed wafting through the hallways of school.

Teachers at city high schools said catching students smoking was rare given the growing ease, leaving reports to be made based on more opaque judgment calls about the smell and student behavior.

“It really feels like this unstoppable tide that we’re trying in vain to suppress,” said America Billy, 44, who has been teaching at a public high school in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, for more than a decade. She said it was difficult to know if a student had walked out because of lack of sleep, family stress or drugs.

In December, a former principal, April McKoy, described in a letter how student cannabis use had spiraled out of control during her final two years as head of City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology in Brooklyn. .

“It felt like more and more people were using without knowing the source, impact or consequences of early marijuana use,” Ms. McKoy said in the letter, adding that the students returned after the pandemic “sad , isolated and trying to find ways to cope.”

Freshmen were selling cannabis to each other, and she said she saw a smokehouse selling edibles to 14-year-olds with police nearby. On another occasion, she sent four students to the hospital because they were sick from contaminated edibles, she said.

The proliferation of unlicensed smokehouses, which the city says could reach 1,500, may be one of the factors driving marijuana use among children, officials said.

Gale Brewer, a city councilwoman, said while she counted less than 10 in her Upper West Side district of Manhattan in September, there were 64 in March. Several school administrators have complained to her about vendors selling joints and infused candy as well as concentrates and high-potency vapes to students.

“We were all saying we need social workers, we need psychologists, we need mental health support in schools,” she said. But dealing with tobacco shops selling to children “wasn’t on the list”.

Mayor Eric Adams has pledged to crack down on unlicensed smokehouses, though he hasn’t taken drastic action. In February, his administration filed nuisance lawsuits targeting a handful of stores where police said underage auxiliary officers could purchase marijuana. Meanwhile, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, has sent letters to the stores threatening to evict them, but so far his office has not taken any action.

In Albany, state lawmakers passed budget legislation in April that expanded the powers of cannabis regulators and state tax authorities to shut down unlicensed stores and impose heavy fines for illicit sales. Mr. Adams’ office welcomed the measure, but urged the state to give the city additional enforcement powers to curb illicit tobacco stores.

Jenna Lyle, spokeswoman for the Department for Education, said schools offer a range of programs aimed at treating and preventing substance abuse among pupils, including specialists who provide advice in schools. But last year there were just 280 specialists for the city’s 1,600 schools, Chalkbeat reported.

Esther Lelievre, a cannabis activist who leads educational workshops in schools at community centers, said many students who use cannabis have reported starting to vape nicotine, a phenomenon that was on the rise before the pandemic. Few of the students she worked with got their marijuana from tobacco shops, she said. Most got it from friends who had access to a dealer or cannabis at home.

At the Bronx Documentary Center, a nonprofit photo gallery near Justin’s school, students in his journalism program set out to raise awareness about cannabis use among children after witnessing the change in their peers.

They mapped all the tobacco shops and schools in the neighborhood with thumbtacks and connected those closest with rubber bands. Showing the map during a recent evening class, 15-year-old Cara-Star Tyner noted that one of the rubber bands didn’t stretch.

“That’s how close it is,” she said.

One of the stores, Puff Puff Pass 1, was visible through their workshop window. On a recent morning, the Times observed two teenagers wearing backpacks and school uniforms making a purchase in the store, then later entering a high school. Two days later, a man who identified himself as the store owner, Mike Alramada, 35, said he did not sell tobacco or marijuana to students. As he spoke, he was interrupted by teenagers ringing his doorbell to enter the store, which also contained drinks and other groceries.

Journalism students said they were disappointed with the adults running their schools, towns and dens, and they hoped that bringing attention to the issue would finally spur authorities to act.

“I hope adults realize they’re not doing their job,” said Alexa Pacheco, who attends a Catholic school in the Bronx. “A teenager shouldn’t worry about his friends using drugs.”

Lauren McCarthy contributed report.


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