Coming together to keep schools drug free

An increase of illegal activity in the neighborhood brought community members together to ensure students’ safety.

Eva Kaganovsky and Angel Rivera

Angel Rivera
Birmingham Community Charter High School’s People Service and Attendance Counselor Maya Holden and the Pupil Service and Attendance Coordinator Dionne Ash listen to Neighborhood School Safety Prosecutor Jacquelyn Lawson suggests solutions to resolve the illegal activity including drug dealing and truancy at the plaza on the northeast corner of Balboa and Victory boulevards.

Drugs. Truancy. Vandalism.

A group of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, various undercover narcotic agents, city attorneys, shop owners and school administrators from the seven surrounding schools met for the second time on May 14 to propose solutions to these ongoing problems that take place at the plaza on the northeast corner of Balboa and Victory boulevards.

“It’s illegal,” Principal Deb Smith said. “It’s against the law for a minor to have possession of or to use any kind of marijuana. There is also the issue of the use of other drugs and the concern of young people being under the influence. If you are under the influence, you are not really able to protect yourself.”

Since the plaza has been notorious for the illegal distribution and selling of drugs, such as marijuana and Xanax, the various community members brainstormed innovative methods to end the rampant drug activity, which significantly influences the high level of truancy seen throughout the neighboring schools.

In contrast to previous attempts made to quell the illegal activity in the plaza, the members plan to involve the property owner to ensure that the area is monitored as well as involve the City Attorney Neighborhood School Safety Prosecutor Jacquelyn Lawson.

“We don’t wait for proof,” Lawson said. “We go out there and we make sure that it’s not going to happen anymore. We will get a lot more law enforcement presence; we will get the schools more involved and we will get the property owners from where the kids might be doing the drugs or exchanging drugs, to cooperate with us.”

In addition to increasing the patrolling of the plaza Lawson advised that the store owners create visible “No Smoking” signs and signs that warn of the “Right to Refuse Service to Anyone.”

“We’ve seen everything here,” a shopkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous said. “There is really easy access to drugs over here and it’s a really easy hideout. Kids are smoking and getting high in the morning.”

Not only will the signs invoke a sense of control but they will also be utilized to convey strict enforcement of student attendance by the business owners.

In addition to the punishments that schools decide to enforce, students that attempt to purchase food or socialize in the plaza during school hours, will be escorted to the local district office, where they will be held until a parent or guardian picks them up and takes them to school.

As this was being discussed in the meeting, a group of four truant students from Birmingham Community Charter High School were brought in and asked why they were skipping school, which was answered by silence.

“Make sure you spread the word on campus,” Pupil Service and Attendance Coordinator Dionne Ash said. “We’re all going to crack down on students being here during school hours. We’re not going to send you back to school anymore. Your parents are going to have to come and get you. You need to go to school.”

The shop owners can potentially face repercussions as well. If they are found providing service to students during school hours, the store owners will be in violation of Penal Code Section 373a because they are maintaining a public nuisance and therefore guilty of a misdemeanor.

The next scheduled meeting will be on June 4.

This committed group will also continue to hold meetings throughout the summer to ensure that the illegal activity is subdued before the new school year begins.

“Drug activity is bad no matter who is involved, whether it’s adults, children or high school students,” Lawson said. “If there’s even a hint of it anywhere, we will aggressively pursue any and all investigations or arrests to make sure students aren’t harmed.”