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Alcohol and Other Drugs — Students

Policy

This policy provides schools with information on supporting the whole school approach to:

  • reducing alcohol and other drug use 
  • responding to drug or alcohol related incidents
  • supporting students involved in alcohol and other drug use

Summary

Schools must:

  • provide all students with alcohol and other drug education through harm minimisation approach through the Victorian Curriculum
  • take a whole of-school approach to involve students, parents, carers and the wider school community in drug-related curriculum and wellbeing issues including discussions in relation to confidentiality
  • not permit student possession, consumption or selling of alcohol on school premises or at camps and excursions
  • manage and report any alcohol and other drug related incidents in accordance with the Reporting and Managing School Incidents (including emergencies) Policy and with the procedures set out in this policy
  • take appropriate action, including contacting police, if a student is found in possession of, selling or under the influence of illegal drugs on school premises or at camps and excursions
  • ensure that students have access to immediate and ongoing support for any substance use issues
  • understand and avoid alcohol and other drug related stigma when having conversations with students or responding to incidents involving student use of alcohol or other drugs
  • make every effort to retain students in the education system because students are often at greater risk of harm or disadvantage if disengaged from school

Details

Alcohol and other drug use education and harm minimisation

Harm minimisation refers to policy and programs that are designed to prevent and reduce alcohol and other drug-related harm.

Schools must use a harm minimisation approach in all activities related to alcohol and other drugs. Alcohol and other drug education should be delivered in alignment with the Victorian Curriculum. Schools are not required to seek consent from parents or carers or notify them that their child is undertaking drug education as part of the school curriculum.  However, principals may decide that it is not in the best interests of a student to participate in drug education and may withdraw them on this basis.

Read more information about drug education including whole school approaches.

More information on alcohol and other drug harm minimisation can be found via the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s website.

Refer to the National Drug Strategy 2017 to 2026.

Alcohol on camps and excursions

Staff must:

  • ensure that student consumption of alcohol on camps and excursions is prohibited regardless of the student’s age, and that students are made aware of the consequences of any infringement of this requirement
  • for camps and excursions involving students over the age of 18 or where the school considers it appropriate to do so, inform parents or carers before departure of the alcohol prohibition, and the sanctions that will be imposed if any student does not comply with this prohibition
  • act in accordance with their duty of care to students, which exists during the entire time of the camp or excursion

For advice on staff consumption of alcohol on camps and excursions, refer to the Department’s policy on Alcohol at School Events

Service of alcohol at off-site school functions

The decision about whether or not to allow the service of alcohol at off-site functions involving students over the age of 18 (such as graduation nights or school formals) rests with the principal. However, schools are reminded that they have a duty of care to all students at the event, including those over the age of 18, and if alcohol is permitted, the school must give careful consideration to the safety and wellbeing of students throughout the event, including the effect that alcohol may have on their safety returning home. Principals must also consider the possible adverse health messages the service of alcohol at a student function may send to the student group. For these reasons, the service of alcohol to students, even though they may be 18 years or older, at these functions is strongly discouraged.

For information on the service of alcohol at school functions and activities for persons other than students (for example, school fetes or other fundraising events) see the Department’s policy on Alcohol - School Events. 

Responding to alcohol and other drug related incidents

Schools must follow the Reporting and Managing School Incidents (including emergencies) Policy to ensure appropriate management and reporting of incidents for students who are substance-affected during school hours or who are suspected of possessing, supplying or using alcohol or other drugs.

Additionally, schools must follow the procedures below:  

Assess immediate health needs

  • call 000 to report any situation where there is a threat to life

Stay calm

  • increasing physical and psychological stress (for example, chasing) may increase the risk of harm, particularly for people affected by stimulants and inhalants

Keep other students safe

  • isolate other students from the situation if necessary

Keep informed

  • If possible, gather facts and relevant information that is, ascertain what substance(s) were taken, how much was taken, when was it last taken and if taken in combination with other substances (including medications)

Seek assistance

  • from Incident Support and Operations Centre on 1800 126 126 as soon as possible

Safely remove and store

  • any suspected alcohol, drugs and related materials until they can be handed over to the relevant authorities

When health and safety has been addressed and the situation is stable, the school must:

  • notify health, community and welfare services, if appropriate
  • contact the police, if required, particularly if the source of supply can be identified
  • facilitate referral to alcohol and drug support services if needed, including via DirectLine or through existing relationships the school may have with alcohol and the other drugs counselling services
  • consider sanctions in line with the school’s student engagement policy.  

For information on specific drugs and their typical effects, refer to the Guidance tab. 

Stigma

It is important to encourage the use of appropriate non-judgmental language and tone when responding to incidents and to ensure that the focus is on student safety and promoting behaviours that are conducive to learning and wellbeing.

Lawful use of alcohol

There may be circumstances in which schools may or may not allow the consumption of alcohol on school premises or at school approved activities of any kind, refer to Alcohol - School Events. 

Prescription drugs

Taking prescription drugs without a prescription is unlawful and use by students is prohibited while at school or at any school event or activity.

There are also serious health risks associated with the misuse of prescription drugs. This includes not following instructions or combining them with other medicines, drugs or alcohol.

For more information on medications including prescription and non-prescription medication, refer to the Department's policy on Medication.  

Duty of care

Staff members have a duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm. A reasonable step will generally include passing on information to the principal if the staff member has knowledge about unlawful alcohol or other drug use by students. This applies regardless of whether:

  • the use is confirmed, suspected or likely to occur
  • the use occurs on or outside school grounds
  • the staff member has knowledge of the drug used.

Note: Because they have a duty of care, staff cannot promise unconditional confidentiality to students.

Refer to Duty of Care for more general information.

Confidentiality

Staff and students should be aware that information about alcohol and other drug treatment needs (for example, counselling and alcohol and other drug treatment): 

  • is a private matter which only needs to be shared between students and their parent or carers (for students who are not considered to be mature minors), supporting community agency, school designated student wellbeing staff and
  • may be provided to staff who have direct responsibility for the student if they need to know that information to discharge their duty of care to the student or to other students, or otherwise in accordance with the Schools Privacy Policy and Privacy and Information Sharing Policy.

An example of where information about a student’s treatment may be communicated to the teacher is where a student’s concentration or alertness may be affected by prescribed medication, including pharmacotherapy, or withdrawal from a drug.

Students should not be excluded from attendance based on their ongoing treatment for alcohol or other drug use.

Drug testing

The Department does not support any form of alcohol or other drug testing in schools for teachers or students to avoid:

  • raising a lack of trust between schools and students
  • legal, technical, ethical and financial issues.

Educational access during absence

Schools must make every effort to retain students in the education system because the risk to students’ social and emotional wellbeing and the risk of students’ exposure to alcohol and drug related harm may increase if disengaged from school.

Any student who is absent from school due to alcohol or other drug use or treatment should be provided with a Student Absence Learning Plan as determined by teachers in consultation with:

  • parents or carers
  • the school’s appointed case manager

Refer to the Department's policy on Attendance

Media advice

For advice regarding the media, schools need to contact the Department’s Media Unit on 03 8688 7776.

Schools can also refer to the Department's policy on Media Requests and Attendance at Schools.

Parents or carers

Principals should notify parents or carers of a student’s alcohol or other drug use as soon as practicable. Confidentiality issues should be clearly communicated to students.

Teachers and principals do not breach criminal law by failing to notify parents or carers of the use of alcohol or other drugs, but there may be a breach of duty of care if reasonable steps to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm have not been taken by the school staff.

The Department has developed a number of drug education resources to support schools in engaging parents.

Police

If an incident involving student use of alcohol or other drugs arises, then principals must:

  • consider the interests of the student, community and agencies when sharing information
  • advise the local police contact person (station commander or sub-officer nominee) when they have knowledge of an alleged criminal offence including the possession, use and distribution of illegal drugs or sale of alcohol to minors
  • follow the Department’s Reporting and Managing School Incidents (including Emergencies) Policy

For further information, refer to the Department's policy on Police and DHHS Interviews.

Professional development

It is recommended that staff be:

  • informed of policies and procedures relevant to alcohol and drugs
  • provided with professional development in responding to alcohol and drug related incidents
  • provided with professional development to deliver drug education through a harm minimisation approach

Definitions

Drugs
A drug is any substance that, when taken or administered into the body, has a physiological effect. This can include a range of substances including legal drugs such as alcohol, or illegal drugs.

Illegal drugs refers to drugs that the law makes illegal to use, possess, cultivate or traffic.

Legal drugs refers to drugs that are legal, but may be used in ways that are unlawful and/or harmful.

Harm minimisation
A harm minimisation approach aims to reduce the risks associated with alcohol or drug use, and promote healthier, alternative behaviours for individuals.

Relevant legislation

Department policy on reducing and responding to student use of alcohol and other drugs

Reviewed 28 September 2021

Policy last updated

15 June 2020

Scope

  • Schools

Contact

Mental Health Reform Unit

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