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Former School Board Members: Change Chemical Health Policy

George Thompson, Rod Jane and Craig Harris say the "'knowingly in the presence' clause potentially creates a public health hazard."

Three former Westborough School Committee members want the current board to remove the "knowingly in the presence of" clause from the school district's chemical health policy, a clause approved during the trio's tenure.

George Thompson, Rod Jane and Craig Harris told the board in a letter submitted on Tuesday that "we are of the opinion that the anticipated public policy benefit relative to the behavior of Westborough students over the years has not materialized."

"Consequently, the policy unfairly penalizes good behaving students who serve as positive role models relative to those students who wrongly consume alcohol or drugs," the letter states.

"A policy that is neither effective or fair has no utilit and should be changed or eliminated altogether."

Current Chairman Ilyse Levine-Kanji said Wednesday she did not have a comment on the letter because the board is still discussing the policy.

The board plans to discuss the policy again at its next meeting, which is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Forbes Municipal Building, and a vote is tentatively set for May 22, she said.

The board's policy subcommittee has proposed changes meant "to clarify the policy," member Bruce Tretter said during the board's April 24 meeting.

Tretter said the policy "gives out students more latitude and a socially responsible out."

But, parent Michael Donovan said the term "knowingly in the presence of" penalized --by "guilt by association" -- students who attend such functions but do not use drugs or alcohol.

Several parents agreed.

Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 10:26 AM
I don't even understand why this is being discussed. Alcohol is illegal for all of our students. They should not be in its presence. Period. High school is the perfect time to expect them to accept the responsibility of knowing what is happening around them, and to make the correct choices. I think it is a rare incidence that a kid doesn't know there is drinking going on. The change in policy is going to be used to give them excuses when a party is busted. We are abdicating our responsibility as parents if we make it easier for our children to be in the presence of drugs and alcohol. I suggest we look at the policy from the other angle - How many "innocent" students have been punished because of this policy? I'll bet none.
Mike May 02, 2013 at 12:25 PM
I would argue you are abdicating your responsibility as a parent if you are depending on the school committee to provide rules your child will obey, or discipline your child if they break a rule. It's your job to raise your child, not the schools.
Contributor May 02, 2013 at 01:05 PM
Parents are fooling themselves if they think their kids will never be in the presence of alcohol or drugs. If they aren't doing it, then they shouldn't be punished even if they are in the same room as it. This policy unfairly goes after the athletes in town. The language also doesn't even make sense - what if they are in the presence of an adult with alcohol. It is bad enough the school department thinks they can dictate what kids do outside of school and school hours, this policy was way over the top and an invasion of privacy.
Tom May 02, 2013 at 01:13 PM
Jenni, Actually at the meeting two parents spoke up and told stories of their kids who were punished for being at a party even though they did not drink. both called their parents and got a ride home when they discovered people were drinking. their stories were not disputed by the principle in attendance at the meeting
Tom May 02, 2013 at 01:13 PM
agreed Mike...
Tom May 02, 2013 at 01:17 PM
Kudos to Thompson and the others. The policy they enacted was well meaning at the time. However, it has failed to achieve its stated purpose and has actually had the unintended effect of increasing the incidence of kids driving with impaired students (based on statistics presented at the meeting) and has punished innocent kids. They should be commended for their intellectual honesty in realizing this and coming out in favor of its reversal
Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 05:45 PM
If you think the only reason we encourage our children to avoid situations where drugs and alcohol are present is because of a school committee rule, you clearly don't know my family, Mike. But what I see is too many parents who don't care that their children are in that situation unless that rule is in place.
Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Contributor, I sadly agree that all of our children find themselves in the presence of alcohol or drugs far too often, and far too young. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of our kids assume that any party they are invited to includes alcohol. But does that mean we throw up our hands and give up? Making the rules more lax sends the message that we are willing to wink and look the other way more often than we used to. If we as a community give our kids permission to be in the presence of the illegal consumption of alcohol because gosh, otherwise they wouldn't get to go to parties and wouldn't have any fun, isn't that the same as telling them alcohol is necessary for a good time? The decison-making centers of the teen brain are still developing, and teens look to societal norms to help them make decisions. Statistics show that the more we accept the "inevitability" of teenage drinking, the more it becomes the norm to teens. Kids often live up (or down) to what is expected of them. If we expect them to drink (or worse, abuse) alcohol, they will. If we make them accountable for it, maybe they won't do it again.
Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 06:42 PM
We have always tried to model responsible drinking for our kids. They know what the laws are and what our rules are. They have turned down many parties, both in high school and college, because they knew alcohol would be present. It is hard to do, but they know it is the right thing to do whether or not the school committee thinks so. I would be interested to hear the statistics proving that more kids are driving with impaired friends because of this rule. It doesn't make sense to me, but since I wasn't at the meeting and didn't hear about them, then I'd be glad to listen. I thought most parents had the deal with their kids that they will pick them up anytime, anywhere, no questions asked. Only my youngest child has been an athlete at WHS. But all of them have been advised by the advisors and directors of their various activities, especially in the D-wing, that they are held to the same standards at the athletic policy. So I guess you could say the policy targets kids who participate in extra-curricular activities. You are right that there is no punishment for kids who don't participate in extra activities. However, participation in activities is a privilege, and having high standards does mean they are unfair. I know we all want what's best for the students of WHS. I just can't for the life of me figure out how giving tacit approval of inappropriate behavior can be the right thing.
Tom May 02, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Jenni, We DO make the ones who drink/drug accountable. What we have to avoid is having the ones who did NOT drink punished... Sadly that has been happening
Tom May 02, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Jenni. how is letting someone go to a party as a designated driver "giving tacit approval of inappropriate behavior" ?? isn't that what we tell our adults? kids were being punished for doing the right thing and leaving because they were there in the first place. watch the meeting. the discussion was a very good one
Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 07:03 PM
Tom, I meant hold them accountable both for using, and for being in the presence of use. The more that non-drinkers are exposed to drinking by their peers, the more likely they are to join in. The constant exposure makes it seem like the normal thing to do, until they feel they must be abnormal if they don't drink. Often it is the goal to get a non-drinker inebriated for the first time.
Tom May 02, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Jenni, So, tell our Seniors "just don't go is the solution". Just two months after graduation they will face the exact sale situation. Shouldn't we send them off more prepared to handle it? We have removed the responsible element from gatherings. This is proven from the study that said the % of kids saying they have driven w/an impaired driver is soaring. Just because they go does not automatically mean they will participate. Give the kids a bit more credit
Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Tom, You are absolutely right that a kid who leaves a party immediately upon learning of the presence of alcohol should not be punished. I would argue that most of the time, they know there will be alcohol before they get there; but yes, sometimes we do have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Thanks for your last comment - now I understand your previous comment about the increased incidence of impaired driving, since there aren't sober kids around to drive. I knew I had to be missing something. I don't believe that is a good argument for removing the policy, though. It seems we are willing to put non-drinkers more at risk for becoming drinkers in order to give the drinkers a safe ride home. Again, I point to the stats about frequent exposure to certain behaviors causing teens to adopt those behaviors as their own. Maybe there are some kids who are already drinkers who choose to abstain for the evening as the DD. I would suspect that is probably rare. Maybe that kid's night has to really suck because he has to wait outside, or be on call but not at the party. Not sure about the answer, just don't think loosening the current policy is it. Please don't think I am some tea-totalling prohibitionist who wants to damn teenage drinkers to hell. I know I don't have the answers to how to curb teen drinking - sure wish I did. I just can't get behind loosening this policy. I will make a point of watching the meeting so that I can hear all of the arguments.
TBH May 02, 2013 at 08:12 PM
The asst. principle was not asked to comment.
TBH May 02, 2013 at 08:15 PM
It does not unfairly target the athletes. This rule applies to all students and will affect those that are on the football team in the same way as it would affect those in band, orchestra, math team, etc. Student athletes are no more nor no less important to any student whether they are involved in after school activities or not.
TBH May 02, 2013 at 08:19 PM
You are once again connecting dots here completely in an attempt to disprove any positive effect this policy has had. Thompson and the other former committee members' opinions carry no more weight that any other parent in this town. We are all Westborough residents and parents.
TBH May 02, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Jenni, I could not agree with you more. Removing this clause is a clear endorsement of these parties. It's ok if you go... just don't partake. Seriously?!
Contributor May 02, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Again, you are missing the point. Kids who were not drinking were getting punished. The policy was poorly written, it didn't even say mention being in the presence of underage drinking. Also, any kid who had a gripe against another kid could say they were at a drinking party. Furthermore, there is not any federal or state law that says kids cannot be in the presence of alcohol. The school dept was overstepping its bounds.
Mike May 02, 2013 at 10:18 PM
It's not a personal statement Jenni. The policy is outside the boundaries of the schools responsibility and authority. If you really want a rule that kids and parents need to respect then it's a police issue. Let them be concerned about being arrested and taken to the station. Let the parents be concerned about getting arrested for hosting. I don't actually have a problem with the language, I have a problem with the group setting the policy. Clearly not being allowed to participate in school activities is not a deterrent.
Jenni Speed May 02, 2013 at 10:39 PM
Contributor, I do get your point - I just don't agree that that is enough reason to scrap the policy. If we need to make changes to how it is implemented, let's do that. If we aren't punishing kids who need to be punished, let's do that. I don't care whether there is a federal or state law about kids being in the presence of alcohol. The more they are in the presence of alcohol, especially when it is being abused as it is at teen parties, the more likely they are to become drinkers, or abusers. It is a fact. Haven't we all always worried about who our kids hang around with, and who has influence on them? Don't we keep them from going places and doing things that might have bad influences on them? That's because teens will accept what they are repeatedly exposed to as the norm. If the way to protect them is to give them an incentive to stay home from the party, then that's what we do. I don't know you, so I am not accusing you. But I know too many parents have a "kids will be kids" attitude about teen drinking, and loosening this policy feels to me to fit in with that philosophy.

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