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Drugs, Gangs on the Rise in Schools

Survey Shows Increase in Gang Activity and Drug Use in Nation's Schools

Survey: Gangs Are Everywhere continued...

In 2002, Smith moved to the historic town of Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville -- a popular destination for tourists and one of the last places one would expect to find gangs.

On his first visit to a local park with his then young sons, Smith spotted gang graffiti.

The 2008 gang-related shooting death of a student from a Franklin high school shocked the sleepy community.

A member of a gang, the student was returning home from a party when he was shot by rival gang members who pulled up beside his SUV and opened fire.

"Parents who live in wealthy communities shouldn't think their schools are immune to gang activity," Smith tells WebMD. "Schools are only immune when the parents and school administrators refuse to accept the presence of gangs."

Public Schools vs. Private Schools

The survey highlights a widening gap between public and private schools with regard to drug and alcohol use.

In CASA's 2001 survey, 62% of public school students and 79% of private and religious school students said they attended drug-free schools. In the latest survey, less than half of public school students (43%) and 78% of private school students said their school was free of drugs.

Teens in public schools were 23 times more likely to report gang activity in their schools than teens in private schools.

Califano says parental involvement may be as important as economic advantage in explaining the gap. He points to New York City parochial schools where parents who can't afford tuition work to pay for their children to attend.

"These schools are in really poor neighborhoods, right next to failing public schools," he says. "Yet they are graduating almost all of their kids."

This year's survey found that parental involvement and strong family ties were among the strongest influences in whether teens smoked, drank alcohol, or used recreational drugs.

Compared to teens with strong family ties, those with weak ties were four times as likely to try tobacco or marijuana and three times as likely to drink alcohol.

CASA Director of Marketing Kathleen Ferrigno says simple things like knowing your teen's friends and eating family meals together can have a big impact.

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