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Senate to hold hearing on illegal drug use on public high school campuses

Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli A. Godinet has scheduled for next week Monday, a hearing to look at the alleged use of illegal drugs in public high schools, with several witnesses being called to provide testimony.

 The witness list, which was announced Wednesday during the Senate session, includes Education director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, principals of the public high schools as well as officials from Department of Public Safety and the Office of Samoan Affairs.

Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean suggested inclusion of Samoan Affairs to ascertain their role in helping to stomp out the illegal drug problem since public schools are located in villages.

Tuaolo claims that the illegal drug problem on high school campuses has spread like “cancer” to elementary schools and everyone, including the Fono and traditional leaders, play a role in seeking to solidify preventive measures.

The scheduled Senate hearing followed recent allegations of illegal drug use at Fagaitua High School campus and Fai’ivae moved to include all high school principals in the hearing so that senators will learn more on the prevalence of illegal drugs on high school campuses and how the Fono can assist in addressing this serious problem, which is probably affecting all public secondary schools.

Sen. Muagututi’a Tauoa said he spoke Wednesday with the Fagaitua principal, who confirmed the report of illegal drug use and that the matter has been referred to local authorities, while communication about this serious matter has already been carried out with police and ASDOE.

Muagututia said he was also informed by the principal that the matter is now in the hands of the attorney handling juvenile cases and requested the attorney to attend the hearing. Muagututia wasn’t specific to which attorney he was referencing.

The Senate session took a brief recess and Senate President Pro-Temp Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga T. Nua called into the Chamber the Senate legal counsel Mitzie Jessop-Ta’ase, who explained that the Attorney General’s Office has an attorney handling juvenile cases.

However, she noted one concern, and that is under the law, juvenile cases and issues are not public and the law protects juveniles, who are under 18 years old.

While the attorney handling juvenile issues can attend the hearing, the attorney however cannot testify on specific questions pertaining to juveniles, said Jessop-Ta’ase, who added that the attorney can answer “general questions” — on issues such as laws, procedures to follow for agencies involved in juvenile matters, etc.

Tuaolo, a retired High Court judge and former police commissioner echoed Jessop-Ta’ase’s explanation.

After the brief recess, the Senate session resumed and it was decided that no attorney or attorneys for juveniles would be called to testify.

According to the 2015 American Samoa Statistical Yearbook released in January this year, there were about 30 drug cases involving juveniles between 2005 and 2015. Data shows that in 2015 there were four drug cases. The highest number of juvenile drugs cases, during the same period, was six each for 2008, 2006 and 2005.

At the House Education Committee hearing two weeks ago, Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr. claimed that drugs have made their way into schools and “this is not a joke, this is not a rumor.” Others — e.g. lawmakers, traditional leaders — in the past have echoed Vesi’s claim.

The results of a local survey conducted in 2013 on the prevalence of cigarette smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use by students was shared by American Samoa with Samoa during a health summit last November hosted by American Samoa.

Results of the survey were released in 2014 on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The survey was carried out in collaboration with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention along with the local Education Department, Health Department and others.

Among the highlights presented at the summit: students taking illicit drugs for the past 12 months — 30% of them were offered, sold or given by someone on school property — compared to 22% at the US level.

Samoa News was unable to obtain information on a more recent survey.