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La Cueva Pot Column Reopens Wounds

By Hailey Heinz
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          An opinion column that appeared in Monday's issue of the La Cueva High School student newspaper argues that marijuana does not lead to harder drug use and can give life a "peaceful and happy" perspective.
        Some La Cueva parents question whether the Edition column was appropriate fare for a high school paper, including one parent who helped to start a heroin awareness group after a former student died of a heroin overdose last year.
        Principal Todd Resch — who did not read the column before publication — said it sends mixed messages to students.
        But Resch also said it is important to respect the free speech rights of students, although he does plan a meeting with the newspaper staff on Monday. Journalism adviser Pat Graff, who did see the column beforehand, said students are smart enough to think for themselves.
        "I think our students are smart enough to make their own choices," she said.
        The column, written by student Cassi Rosley, begins with information about medical marijuana use, then transitions into an argument that many marijuana users are successful and happy.
        "You can still cook, run errands, go to the gym and perform complex tasks after using marijuana," Rosley wrote. She went on to write, "... seeing life in a peaceful and happy way doesn't seem very bad to me. A lot of great ideas come from people who smoke weed responsibly."
        Rosley could not be reached for comment.
        Jennifer Weiss, a La Cueva parent and president of the school's Heroin Awareness Committee, said she respects freedom of expression but it should have limits in a high school setting.
        "I think it's different when you're talking about a high school newspaper and high school students that really look up to their peers," Weiss said.
        She said the column paints an idyllic picture of marijuana use, which students should not be exposed to in public school.
        "It should be policed by the school," she said. "... This is a school paper that my tax dollars support."
        Weiss has one daughter enrolled at La Cueva. Another relative, who used to attend the school, struggled with heroin addiction. Weiss said that, although marijuana may not be a "gateway" drug for everyone, it was the drug her relative started with.
        Weiss and a committee of other parents started the Heroin Awareness Committee last spring after the fatal heroin overdose of Haley Paternoster, who had become addicted while she was a student there.
        Paternoster's father, Steve, said then that he had removed her from La Cueva because it wasn't suitable to her recovery.
        "She didn't feel comfortable there, with the whole drug culture there. It's out of control," he said then. "We're seeing an explosion in drug use here, and these kids in public school don't have a chance."
        Resch became principal at the start of this school year and has made efforts to create a drug-free climate at La Cueva. He said that, even though the column was one student's opinion, it runs counter to what he's trying to achieve.
        "I'm having a lot of difficulty with this because I think it's in direct contrast with what I'm trying to do as principal, and that is to promote a drug-free campus," he said.
        Albuquerque Public Schools policy requires that student publications be reviewed by an adult before they go to press, spokesman Rigo Chavez said. The policy also says that, in the case of a disagreement, the school principal has final say on what can be published.
        La Cueva's policy is that Graff, not Resch, reads the newspaper before it is published.
        Graff said Friday she stands behind the column because it is one student's opinion. She said dissenting parents should write letters to the editor.
        "I'm not the censor; I'm the adviser," she said.
        Resch stopped short of saying whether he would have allowed the story to be published if he had read it prior to publication. His meeting Monday with the Edition staff is to talk about the column and repercussions such writing can have.
        "I just want to make sure that some thought is put into writing these opinions," he said, adding that he will decide after that meeting whether there needs to be a change in La Cueva's prior review policy.
        "I have not decided that right now," Resch said. "This is a classic example of trust being given, and now I might have to rethink that. But that's not saying that I'm going to have to do that and censor our students."
        Resch said he is particularly concerned about some of the younger students at the school.
        "I just want to make sure we are not sending a wrong message to a group of freshmen, sophomores, and their siblings in middle school," he said, adding that the student journalists are still learning, and he hopes the column can spark conversations about drug use.
        "As I evaluate this further, there's also a tremendous opportunity to create quality debate," he said. "I'm hoping there's a student on this campus who is going to submit a counterpoint."

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