TAMPA, Fla. — Leaders at Hillsborough County Public Schools are not shying away from acknowledging that when students were forced to stay home for periods of time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may have made issues with alcohol and drugs worse.

What You Need To Know

  • Alcohol and drugs issues may have worsened during the COVID pandemic, Hillsborough school leaders say

  • About 14.5% of Hillsborough students admitted to drinking alcohol over 30 days, DCF said

  • More than 1,000 middle and high school students responded to the poll in 2020, DCF said

  • School board members will meet with outreach groups about ramping up programs to curb those numbers

Stress and limited access to programs and services may be contributing factors. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, a poll of more than 1,000 Hillsborough County middle and high school students revealed that in 2020, 14.5% of students admitted to drinking alcohol in the past 30 days while 10.1% said they had used a vape. Students also reported binge drinking, smoking marijuana and taking prescription pills.

“When you’re working with somebody in person, you have more relationships you’re willing to build and different people you can go to regularly,” explained Holly Saia, director of student services. “There’s student services staff at every site so you can see a counselor, a psychologist, a social worker. It’s just more challenging to do that online than it is to do that in person.”

This morning, school board members are meeting with local outreach groups for an update on what services and programs will be ramped up in the district to combat these numbers.

School districts across the state are required to have and implement substance use and abuse health education plans.

Hillsborough County Public Schools plan to use the Monique Burr Foundation for children’s prevention education programs for students from kindergarten to fifth grade. That includes age-appropriate substance abuse education, which is given during physical education classes.

For middle school students, they plan to continue the Botvin LifeSkill Training, which includes career research and decision-making skills in addition to substance prevention information.

High school students will have the Everfi curriculum, which is for alcohol and prescription drug safety. It includes designated lessons for each grade.

This school curriculum will also be supplemented by school counselors and community groups, including the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office and many on-campus clubs and organizations.

The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to noon at the Hillsborough County Public Schools district headquarters in downtown Tampa.