F.C. School Board Vows Pro-Active Response to Troubling Drug Survey

A third of George Mason High School students are habitual marijuana users, significantly higher than the national average which is one-in-four. This is according to the results of the most recent Pride Survey.

Following up on a resolution it passed unanimously at its April 24 meeting, the City of Falls Church School Board issued a public letter this week declaring war on what it called “alarming” and “dismaying” trends in illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use among the City’s school-aged youth.

Citing results from the annual Pride Survey conducted among 940 students in the Falls Church system in the sixth through 12th grades, the board threw its support behind the substance abuse reduction efforts of a newly-formed SAFE/CADRE Task Force.

The task force, the School Board’s letter said, “is made up of parents, educators, city leaders, health experts and law enforcement officials who are working on ways to help children make good decisions in social situations.”

The board’s resolution also called on the Falls Church City Council to weigh in, and to back “active enforcement of existing underage drinking and substance abuse laws.” School Board chair Craig Cheney is expected to make a presentation on the subject to the City Council soon.

The Pride Survey results showed that while the percentage of ninth through 12th grade students at George Mason High School is roughly equal to the national average in terms of alcohol and tobacco use, it is markedly higher in the category of marijuana use.

Among the 549 students surveyed at the school in the 9-12 grade range, the percentage of students who use tobacco daily, weekly or monthly is 39.6%, compared to the national average of 37.3%.

In the case of alcohol, the percentage of users daily, weekly or monthly is 59.7%, almost equal to the national average of 60.5%.

But in the case of marijuana, the percentage is markedly higher than the national average, 32.2%, or almost a third of all GMHS students, compared to the national average in over 8,000 high schools tested of 25.3%, or a fourth of all students.

It was noted that these numbers do not refer to one-time or rare use, but to those who use these products at least once a month. “That suggests students involved in habitual use,” the School Board statement said.

The Pride Survey showed that use of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco in the sixth through eighth grades in Falls Church is significantly below the national average in all categories.

But that trend may change, at least for eighth graders, as a result of a recent structural change in the Falls Church Schools that has put eighth graders into the high school.

Still, the survey showed that most of the use by students “occurs not on school grounds, but in the community on weekends, followed by weeknights and then after school,” according to the Falls Church Schools’ Student Services Coordinator Judy Becker.

She was quoted in an earlier press statement that the survey shows “students are least likely to use substances at school, where zero-tolerance expectations and consequences are made clear, and the rules strictly enforced. The places students are most likely to use are at a friend’s house, followed by ‘other,’ in a car or at home.”

“A phrase I am hearing more frequently from parents is that their students, ‘work hard, party hard,’ and as long as grades are high and there is no legal involvement, their drinking is acceptable,” she said.

The School Board, in its letter this week, urged parents to explore resources on the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control web site, such as “The Parental Guide to Hosting Teen Parties,” at

“Aside from the fact that it is unlawful for minors to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, statistics show that drugs and alcohol are leading causes of death and injury in teenagers. Research also shows that alcohol and drug use change the way the brain functions, which can adversely affect teen growth and development, causing long-term social and health problems,” according to a School Board statement.