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How bad is the drug problem at Palo Alto high schools?

Original post made by Sarah, Gunn High School, on Jan 24, 2009

Rylan Fuchs, a good looking, white, 17 year old high school student in Danville, was shot and killed this week apparently after a drug sale to a 15 year old friend went bad. During a TV news interview, a group of Fuchs' friends said drug use was rampant at San Ramon Valley High School, with over 80% of the students using marijuana or other drugs.

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Comments (28)

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2009 at 10:09 am

My 16 year old white son, who looks a lot like the picture of Rylan shown on tv, watched the news of this on tv during the week. It was a good time for us to sit and talk about this as he could see the similarities for himself. I asked him about drugs at Paly and he said that he knows they are there, is not surprised by who it is that is involved, and that he stays away from it completely.

This is something that should be used by parents as a discussion opener with all high school parents, and even by TAs and counselors in school.

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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2009 at 10:50 am

Paly Parent - I agree that this is a very good time to have a chat with your children about drugs.

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Posted by Wm Hanley
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2009 at 8:41 pm

The teachers and police should be ONE is helping each other protect our children - The parents are sometimes either non-caring or working too much. Either way our neightborhoods childrern are being slautered. I've seen it. Some parents are criminals themselves - not good parents.

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Posted by terryg
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 25, 2009 at 4:07 pm

You might be interested in the following:
The Palo Alto Drug & Alcohol Community Collaborative (PADACC) will be sponsoring a community meeting for the parents and students of Gunn, Paly, JLS, Jordan, and Terman to discuss the results of the Oct. survey on alcohol, drugs and bullying.

Hearing From Our Teens: Student Attitudes & Experience regarding Alcohol, Marijuana, & Bullying
Monday, March 2, 7 p.m.
PAUSD District Office, 25 Churchill
An evening devoted to exploring October 2008 student survey data from Gunn, Paly, JLS, Jordan, and Terman.
A panel of health professionals, students, and survey experts will lead the discussion.
For parents and students, staff and community.
Sponsored by Palo Alto Drug & Alcohol Community Collaborative

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 25, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Wm Hanley says: - "The parents are sometimes either non-caring or working too much." If the parents don't care no wonder there is a drug problem with teenage kids. The parents are the first line of defence not the schools or the Police Department.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 26, 2009 at 7:00 am

I don't know about now, but in the late 80's there was a significant drug problem at Paly. Beyond pot, there was cocaine from the EPA epidemic and LSD from the Grateful Dead scene.

From my experience, I'm not too eager for my kids to be in the PA school district. Watch that South Park episode 'Smug' and that's what PA is about. I'm already thinking of buying property out of state and semi-retiring for 4 years, so my kids can go to good schools.

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Posted by Carole
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2009 at 11:48 am

If people really want to know about adolescent drug use, have a truly anonymous questionnaire completed including each drug, how often used, does the teen know where to get it, is the teen curious to try it. And most important don't forget alcohol. The frequency of use is most important.

When my daughter was a Gunn student, I was shocked to learn that there are still, even now, parents who allow teen parties in their homes without an adult present.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2009 at 12:54 pm


Moving out of state will not help. Drugs are everywhere whether an affluent community or not. There are cheaper ways to get high.

The only positive about moving out of state would be that your children would be out-of-staters so it might be easier for them to be admitted to CA universities!

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 26, 2009 at 2:08 pm


My parents moved me out of CA half way through high school. I left behind loser PA kids snorting coke and taking XTC during school and ended up someplace where the worst I experienced was a little bit of weed and a couple beers on the weekends, which is almost acceptable as teenage culture for me. California is way too culturaly intense for some teenagers. Others just have blinders on and stay out of trouble.

Getting out of CA changed my life and I am very grateful for this move. Although some Paly kids end up in ivy league colleges, most I come across seem pretty narrowly focused and ignorant in many basic aspects of life. I've ran into many in their 30's who are STILL into hard drugs. Why Paly is a well respected high school is beyond me.

My thoughts on buying property out of state are two fold. First, I'm not locked into the tech heavy economy of the region and second we can move to a better school system at any time if necessary. My career is flexible enough to do this. Most don't have that option.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm


Interesting how people can have such different experiences and interpretations because I graduated from Paly in the 80s and it was not a druggie school. Many of the jocks and popular people became successful and many are back in Palo Alto with successful careers. I guess it all depends on who people hangs out with.

People knew who the "loser, coke-snorting kids" were and did not participate. I'll bet those druggies back then are still druggies due to addictive personalities.

I guess leaving town worked for you but then you are back for some reason. Move out of state if you would be happier.

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Posted by paly student
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm

at least half of paly upperclassmen drink and/or smoke weed on a semi/regular basis.
as for the underclassmen, i really have no idea but I would guess at least 25% or so.
and when i say at least half of upperclassmen, its probably closer to two-thirds or so.

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Posted by paly student 2
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm

By the way forgot to mention: don't get the wrong idea by thinking that the people that drink and smoke weed are just a bunch of low-lives.
I personally know plenty of people that smoke and/or drink on the weekends regularly, that are off on their way to Stanford or Harvard or Yale or wherever else next year.

And whenever a high schooler uses the term 'smoke', they almost always refer to weed. I don't know anyone that would ever smoke cigarettes, because thats just plain stupid and unhealthy and not pleasurable.

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Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Back in the 80s, kids looked up to role models like Ronald Reagan. A man with morality and principals.

Today, kids look up to role models like Barack Obama. A man that smoked a lot of weed, did a lot of coke in his day. Also, he changes positions all the timeon issues but he covers his tracks well for those that take him at his word. Listen carefully to Obama. Barack lies or changes positions frequently after uttering one of the following phrases: "Let me clarify this..", "I have said repeatedly..", "I have consistently..", "I have been consistent on..", "I have stated clearly.."

Here's an example of one of his lies:
Web Link

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Posted by Dads
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm

High school kids that like to smoke pot are not an easy group to parent. The kids seem to think it is their recreational right to smoke. It is just another activity like playing violent video games and downloading music to their iPods.

It doesn’t help that we have a screwy set of laws around marijuana. In 1996 California passed another one of their wacky, “activists” propositions, Prop. 215 – California Compassionate Use Act. This law removes criminal penalties for personal use possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes by patients who have a physician's recommendation or approval. To service the needs of patients a plethora of medical marijuana dispensaries or cannabis clubs have popped up in the Bay Area.

I believe I voted for this proposition. It seemed to make sense at the time. Sick people should not be denied a simple and easy drug that could relieve their symptoms of pain and nausea. I still believe that the truly sick should have access to medical marijuana. I mistakenly thought this would serve cancer, MS, glaucoma, anorexia, and AIDS patients. In fact, physicians can recommend marijuana for such common complaints as insomnia, post-traumatic stress, PMS, depression, and substance abuse(!?!).

The main problem is that the dispensaries and clubs are not regulated and monitored like pharmacies or even liquor stores. It was not spelled out in the law how to distribute or make available medical marijuana. These "stores" will sell to anyone, even a kid, who can show a physician’s letter of recommendation or approval. It is not even a prescription. Physicians are not allowed to prescribe marijuana. Federal law restricts prescriptions to drugs licensed for sale in pharmacies. You can buy at least 8 ounces of pot every time you go to a club. Apparently you can go as often as you want. The law even allows counties and cities to establish higher (but not lower) limits if they wish. It is easy to Google list of where to get some.

High school kids have learned to exploit this weak system. All you need is to get a physician’s letter of recommendation. It can’t be as hard as getting a fake driver’s license or ID. Buy $50 worth of pot or marijuana brownies from your neighborhood cannabis club and resell it to your friends and make a several hundred dollars. It couldn’t be easier.

They system is a mess and it is screwing with the lives of kids. I say make marijuana legal but regulate and tax the heck out of it like cigarettes and alcohol.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm

What I noticed from traveling to Amsterdam where it's legal, is that kids (Dutch kids), don't really get into marijuana. Same thing's true in Japan where you can buy beers from vending machines at almost any corner. I think we just need to remove the mystery and rebelious nature and the problem of underage use is pretty much eliminated.

I hate seeing kids under 18 partake, but for adults I don't really see much of a problem, so long as you treat marijuana use the same as responsible alcohol use. Besides, we've been throwing too much money at the issue with little results.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 26, 2009 at 11:51 pm


Those are my memories of Paly. Kids doing lines at lunch and tripping on LSD during classes. How can you forget that? The college party scene was a let down after that.

I'm always hesitant about Paly jocks who 'make it', as their parents are obviously well connected. Life's more interesting watching someone come from the bottom and scratching their way to the top.

From a business standpoint, I've found Paly alumni to be pretty worthless, often having greasy/flashy degrees that look good, but give them tickets to not do/know sh+t.

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Posted by joey
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 11:59 am

I graduated from gunn last year.
Yes, there is a drug problem at our high schools though it mainly involved marijuana. The truth is that parents just dont seem to care enough.

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Posted by what?
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm

What does him being white have to do with it? So typical of the elitist view of palo alto residents.

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Posted by paly grad
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I graduated from Paly in 2005. The experience that I got while I was there was that the more money you had, the more likely you were to drink and smoke weed, do E, and coke. No one really seemed to think coke was a big deal, and weed is pretty normal. Anyone can get it and just about everyone knows someone who does it. The biggest thing is parents really don't care. As long as the kid is still getting good grades and comes across to the public as respectable, then no one cares what they do. I personally went to a party with the parents home with kids drunk everywhere, high, and having sex in the bathrooms. The parents absolutely didn't care as long as the kids there were good students and seemed upstanding. Parties were often broken up by police but no citations were given out depending on who the parents were.
People seem so surprised that an middle/upper class white kid would do drugs. In my experience those are the kids that do it the most.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2009 at 5:25 pm

The points some are trying to make appear to breakdown to these.

Drugs are prevalent on Gunn and Paly campuses, and have been for some time.

Drugs are not part of the low life culture, but part of the affluent members of the schools "normal" student body. This is not somethng that we can blame on crime and the lower income students, but perhaps on the fact that our high pressured kids are finding a way to relieve stress in their lives.

Many parents appear not to care. I for one do care and I am sure I am not the only one, but the fact is that as far as many students are concerned, parents do not appear to care or to be concerned.

Perhaps this is what is most upsetting, the fact that we can't explain it away or blame it on EPA. The drugs may or may not be coming from EPA, but this then is not an EPA problem but a Palo Alto problem.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I'm surprised Paly Grad mentioned coke is still around Paly. Marijuana is something that's around every high school, a problem, but kind of like keeping cake and ice cream away from obese people. Call it a gateway drug, but most would beg to differ.

Coke is on another level. Coke has sent many to the gnarliest prisons. Paly kids have money, their parents are the richest 1% on earth, so obviously this expensive drug is pushed their way.

What kind of community allows this? Are Palo Alto residents a bunch of coke heads themselves? 20+ years of cocaine use in a high school and nothing's been done?

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Posted by middle schoolparent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I am very interested in what the high school students in this conversation are saying. They both say they think the problem is that parents don't care. Could you say more about that? Do you mean that the parents tell their kids it's ok to do drugs as long as their grades are good, or that they are clueless and don't know what their kids get up to? I guess what I'm asking is - what would a caring parent do? What can parents do to help their kids navigate high school? I went to high school in a different country, and though of course sex and drugs existed, it was on the margins and not considered normal at all.

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Posted by Mom who definitely cares
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Reading these comments has confirmed some of my impressions. I almost didn't let my daughter go to Paly because a lot of parents had told me that many students there get involved with drugs and alcohol in a big way. It seemed like the first couple of years she resisted the pressure, but now most of her friends drink and smoke, and she does too. (I wasn't surprised by Paly student's estimate that l/2 to 2/3 smoke and drink.)
I make a point of waiting up for her every time she goes out and talking with her about the evening. I also check to see if there are parents at parties, sleep overs, etc., but it's hard. I can't keep her at home every moment she's not at school, and she needs to learn how to make wise decisions anyway since she'll be away at college in a year and a half. Having known some people in the seventies and eighties that went overboard with coke, that really concerns me, as does the thought of anything like LSD, methamphetamines or Ecstasy.
So, to those who say that parents don't care, my answer is that some of us do--a lot, in fact, but don't know what to do, other than to lay down some ground rules, communicate and be aware of warning signs. Honestly, if I thought it would be very different at another high school in the area, I would move. My daughter tells me it wouldn't be. I'm curious to know what others think. Is this problem more serious in P.A. high schools or does it vary a lot from one high school to another? Are there communities in the Bay Area that are attempting to deal with this problem (and succeeding) in a proactive and positive way?

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2009 at 12:03 am

I have one Paly grad and one Paly junior and I think the best way to prevent your kids getting involved in the drug/alcohol culture is to start in elementary school. Both my kids have been involved in Church and other activities outside school which is where their closest friends are. Although they both enjoyed middle school dances, neither of them have gone to the Paly dances because they don't like the crowd that go to them. They would much rather spend their free time with friends from their other activities.

My advice would be that as your kids reach the preteen years, get them involved in youth activities where you can also get involved and you can get to know the leaders. Get to know their friends and then get to know their parents. Don't let them go to homes of friends when you don't know or haven't met the parents. Lay these rules down while they are still young enough to not question them. If they have new friends, then the new friends should be welcome to come to your home but your kids can't go to their homes until you have met the parents.

Will your kids accept these rules? If you start young enough and explain why you are so anxious about them when they do start to question them, they should. Don't embarrass them in front of their friends, but do make sure that they know you want them to enjoy their free time and have friends but you have to know what they are doing and with whom. Your kids will respect you even though they may not show it, but you are not out to win the coolest parent award, just perhaps the most involved. If you go out of your way to let your kids know that you care about them and are putting them as your highest priority, not somewhere down the list after job, personal fulfilment or other social activities. Finally, don't do things you don't want them to do in time. If they see you acting opposite to the way you expect them to behave, then they will disregard you. But, if you live your life according to the standards you set for them, then they will know you mean what you say.

Good luck.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2009 at 9:10 am

Yes, I certainly heard stories about the Paly dances!!Some kids decide on their own to do other entertainment activities owing to what they see at those dances.

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Posted by rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2009 at 3:33 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2009 at 10:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 29, 2009 at 8:17 am

How did I know that my comment would be removed. I'm a resident of Danville, where this kid was shot. I'm a youth myself, in my twenties. I would suppose you may want to hear from someone so close to the issue. But, who wants the truth when you can demonize the white victim. Yeah, he got shot for selling weed. Right. (sarcasm) It had nothing to do with the fact that we imported a little gangbanger from Richmond into our community via a group home. Right. (sarcasm) You don't get killed over weed in Danville, unless the adults are irresponsible enough to import thugs into our community.

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