MERIDEN – Police are investigating after Hanover School reported Tuesday afternoon that a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten special needs student pulled out nine baggies of marijuana during snack time.
Detective Lt. Mark Walerysiak, the police spokesman, said police were called to the school at about 1:15 p.m. The officer spoke with the child’s teacher, who turned over the bags containing the drugs. She said the boy pulled the bags from his coat pocket during snack time, announcing that he had snacks.
“The case remains under investigation,” Walerysiak said. The Department of Children and Families “was called in to also conduct an investigation.”
School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni and Principal Miguel Cardona commented to the media after students had left for the day.
“Our concern is for the 4-year-old student who had no knowledge of what he was bringing to school,” Benigni said, calling it an “isolated” incident. “The student is safe and we will continue to ensure a safe learning environment to all of our students.”
Benigni added that no other student knew of the situation because the boy was grabbing what he thought was a snack from his coat pocket. A teacher who was “in close proximity” then discovered what the student was in possession of.
Gary Kleeblatt, the DCF spokesman, said he could not comment on the department’s involvement in the case, saying reports of abuse or neglect are confidential.
“Whenever an agency such as police reports an incident to us, we will do an investigation, first to determine if the child is safe and then to determine what services the family may need,” Kleeblatt said.
Police say no arrests have been made yet and the case remains under investigation.
Benigni added that it was clear the child was not at fault.
“This is clearly an adult issue,” he said.
The school planned to send out a mass alert telephone message to parents, informing them of the incident. Cardona said it is important for parents to have “open dialogue” with their children about their safety and peers’ safety.
J. Craig Allen, the chief medical officer with the Rushford Center and board certified in child psychiatry, said the effects of marijuana on a child that young could be terrifying.
“If you can access nine bags of marijuana, I guess there are no boundaries in that environment. It boggles the mind. It’s a terrifying thought,” Allen said.
He said most studies involving marijuana usage look at adults and adolescents, but tests on animals show the drug has a large detrimental effect on a developing brain, whether it is through second-hand smoke or ingestion.
At that age, Allen says the brain is developing based on a reward system through actions such as eating, sleeping or having social experiences. Exposure to any drug, such as marijuana, can decrease the motivation to learn during an important period of childhood development.
“A 4-year-old’s brain is developing very rapidly and very susceptible to toxins,” Allen said.
Being around second-hand smoke can lead to asthma or lung problems, Allen said