There are two ways to look at the recent reports demonstrating the high number of drug and alcohol cases in Columbia County schools this past year.
One way is to see the glass half-empty: Columbia County's schools are infested with drugs.
The other is to see the glass half-full: Columbia County officials have gotten tougher on drug and alcohol enforcement, even though the increased numbers give the school system a black eye.
We prefer the latter approach. Not because it makes the schools look better, but because it reflects reality - and because it marks significant progress for the Columbia County school system.
Not so many years ago, the school system came under fire for some isolated cases of under-reporting disciplinary infractions - not just drugs, but violent incidents, too.
Since then, school officials have taken a far more constructive approach: Rather than gloss over the infractions, they actively police them - including more aggressively welcoming involvement from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and its drug-sniffing dogs.
To head off allegations that the system is skirting the reporting rules, the county also lists every offender when it reports cases, rather than reporting each incident as one case no matter how many offenders there are. The result makes the county look bad, but it's honest.
For example, Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle points out that Columbia Middle School's numbers ballooned from two incidents - one in which six students passed around a pill, and another in which seven students were involved in possession of the same small amount of marijuana. The system legally could have reported just two cases, but instead logged 13.
"Even when we err, we err on the high side," Nagle told a reporter. "We don't want someone to think we're trying to manipulate the numbers."
Regardless of the deservedly positive spin, however, there is no escaping the fact that the rising numbers of drug cases are a stain on the county. School officials will demonstrate that the county deserves to continue to view the glass as half-full only if tough enforcement, not manipulation, soon makes those numbers fall.
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