A school and police investigation that resulted in the arrests of three Franklin Community Middle School students last month started when a student was sent to the school office wobbling and with slurred speech.
After staff members began asking questions, they found the student had taken Alprazolam, a prescription similar to Xanax that treats anxiety, and had been given the drug at school. The student was taken by parents to an area hospital. And school officials quickly found out a total of seven students had either taken, handed out or sold the drug at school.
Police arrested three students last month after the drugs were found — two for dealing a narcotic on school property and the third for possession of a narcotic. But Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper will not charge the two students who passed out the drugs because he said they should have been read their Miranda rights and given the chance to meet with their parents before they were questioned by school officials.
Any time school officials believe that a student has committed a crime, they need to immediately contact law enforcement officials, who know an individual’s rights, Cooper said.
When school officials at the middle school realized the pills were being passed out, a police officer from the Franklin Police Department already was conducting an unscheduled walk-through of the building, and the officer helped school officials during the investigation, Principal Pam Millikan said.
The officer was present when administrators questioned the students they believed were passing out the pills, but school officials were leading the investigation, Cooper said. Because the students couldn’t leave during questioning, weren’t read Miranda rights and didn’t get a chance to meet with their parents, he won’t file charges, Cooper said, adding he didn’t think the officer had done anything wrong.
Superintendent David Clendening said he wants to be sure school officials know everything police officers and Cooper need when they’re investigating a crime.
“The school and the city police have a very good working relationship,” Clendening said. “We will definitely call them when we think we need their assistance in terms of a situation. And we’ll make sure we engage with the prosecutor’s office to make sure we understand all of the different things they need. We each have three different roles in our community.”
Cooper said he has evidence to be able to charge the third middle school student with juvenile possession of a controlled substance. Because it’s a juvenile charge, the file will be sealed, and the charge won’t appear on the student’s record. The student could face
consequences that could include being sent to a boys or girls school, Cooper said.
School officials also are considering what consequences the seven students will face for bringing or using the pills at schools. Franklin considers using and selling drugs a serious offense, and punishment can include suspension or expulsion.
Police believe at least one of the two students who was handing out and selling the Alprazolam stole 16 or 17 of the pills from home. Nine of the pills were found at the school, Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said.
When she learned what had happened, Millikan said, she immediately worried about how many students were taking a prescription drug without knowing how it might affect them.
“My first thought was: How many have ingested this? Are they safe?” Millikan said.
School officials contacted the parents of all seven students who were found with the prescription medication. And now Millikan and police are looking for ways to ensure students and their parents know more about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.
“Kids don’t know the dangers of what they’re taking; and if they take too much, it could be serious for them, and they wouldn’t be aware of it. So it is extremely dangerous,” Millikan said.
Middle school officials haven’t had many instances over the years of students using prescription or other drugs, Millikan said. But she’s heard from police that more adults are starting to abuse prescription medication. And sometimes when drug abuse starts among adults, children and teens eventually start using the same substances, she said.
O’Sullivan said, “It’s our goal to put an end to it because it’s disruptive and dangerous.”
For three years, the middle school has used a program called Not My Kid to help inform parents about the dangers of prescription and other drug abuse and how they can spot the problem with their children. The school hasn’t conducted the program this school year, but if possible Millikan wants to use it before the start of summer break.
Millikan also wants to find additional resources that teachers and school officials can give to students and talk with them about why taking medication they haven’t been prescribed is dangerous. That also will include making sure that students are watching for anything they consider suspicious, including students who might be selling or using drugs, so they can tell
a teacher, administrator or police officer what’s happening, she said.
“Our kids want to keep our school as safe as we do,” Millikan said.