Although it was not the first time school officials have found students in possession of a controlled substance, it was the first time Liberty Hill police got involved.
On March 2, Liberty Hill Junior High Principal Chad Pirtle received a call from a parent alerting him to a conversation that took place on a school bus the day before. Seventh and eighth grade students were passing around pills they thought were Viagra, he said.
“While Mr. Pirtle was still investigating, the police showed up,” said Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart. “He didn’t even have time to call them.”
Liberty Hill Police Chief Randy Williams said he became concerned when he learned of the situation from a third party rather than officials at the school.
State law requires school officials to notify law enforcement when they suspect a crime is being committed. Section 37.015 of the Texas Education Code lists
“the use, sale or possession of a controlled substance, drug paraphernalia, or marijuana” as activities that require police notification.
Williams said the pills were not Viagra as the students and Pirtle first thought. Instead, they were a form of hydrochodone, a pain killer -- 325 milligrams.
“That’s enough (medication) to make a difference in someone’s behavior,” he said. “What’s worse is that you don’t know how that drug will interact with any other medications the person might be taking, or there might be allergies that could lead to serious complications.”
Williams said police officers have not been involved in previous situations when junior high employees found other students in possession of a controlled substance, which is a felony.
Last week, police “processed” or arrested three students. Williams said one student, who is believed to have brought the pills to school, was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute -- a third degree felony in a drug-free zone.
Hart said that student was expelled from school and sent to Williamson County juvenile services.
Two others were charged with possession of a controlled substance. Hart said those students were sent to the disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) for 45 days, but their behavior will be reviewed after 20 days to determine if they can return to the campus.
“If the principal believes that no crime was committed, he doesn’t have to call police at all,” Hart said.
“We have discretion that we use. We’re educators, not police officers. Our first interest is to protect the kids. That’s why we don’t call the police immediately.”
“If we are not made aware of narcotic possession in our schools in a timely and professional manner, it will greatly deter our efforts to trace it back to the dealer who is providing drugs to our children,” Williams said.
“The quicker we are involved in any case, the better chance we have of solving the crime,” he added. “The more time that passes before we are notified, it’s more likely that evidence will be lost or contaminated, and that interviews with witnesses and suspects will produce less information.”
Williams said school officials should turn over drugs or any other physical evidence of a crime to law enforcement authorities as soon as they obtain it. Otherwise, they place themselves in an awkward position legally.
“I am not aware of any exemption in the law that wold allow school staff to possess illegal narcotics on school property,” he said. “If that employee were to be found with it and a police report had not been initialized, that employee would be suspected of committing a crime under the Texas Penal Code.”
Hart said he did not agree with the Chief’s interpretation of the law on that issue. But nevertheless, school officials do not want to hold on to drugs or any other illegal items.
“Generally, they take the drugs (from the student) and dispose of them. We don’t want them around,” he said.
Williams said he obtained nine pills from Pirtle when officers met with him March 2. The drugs are now being stored securely as evidence.
Williams said the original source of the drugs is still not certain. And school officials reported to police that none of the students were believed to have ingested the medication.
“At first we were told this involved eight kids and we narrowed it down to three,” Williams said.
Two days after the school was alerted to the drugs, police brought a drug-detecting dog to the school. Williams said no narcotics were found in that search.
“Every school has drugs at some level,” said Hart. “Is it something we deal with on a daily basis? No. I dont think we have a problem. If it was taking up our time every day, then it would be a problem. This is not a critical issue.”
Hart said he would not consider Liberty Hill to have a “problem” with drugs unless the situation required “a tremendous amount of time, where staff members were spending entire days on it.”
“Very rarely do we find something,” he said.
“It’s very seldom we have something like this happen,” Pirtle said. “When we hear about it, we address the situation as quickly as possible.”
Williams noted that by law, law enforcement officers are reuqired to notify school officials when they arrest a student for any reason. He said administration is notified, typically by a fax.
If local police and the school district share the goal of ridding the schools and the community of drugs, the perception would be that the two entities would be working together to find solutions to problems.
Williams said he has never met with Hart for any reasons, although Hart told another newspaper more than a year ago that he intended to meet with police to discuss school safety issues.
Hart said he does not discourage campus administrators from calling law enforcement officers if they suspect a crime has been committed at school.
“I just want them to notify me after they call them,” he said.
Williams said the students involved last week were ages 13 and 14.
The students were processed at the police department -- brought in by their parents and then released back to their parents’ custody. The cases were referred to the juvenile justice system.