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Schools' Chemical Health Policy Debated

Several parents attended Wednesday night's school committee meeting.

If Westborough students are found "knowingly in the presence of" alcohol or drugs at "unsupervised, underage gatherings," should school officials prohibit them from participating in school-related events?

Wednesday night, the school committee and a number of parents debated clarifications to the school district's chemical health policy proposed by the board's policy subcommittee.

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.

In contrast, Westborough High School Assistant Principal Brian Callaghan called the policy "an improvement on our former policy." He added that "something we cannot do is weaken that policy."

"We feel strongly that any student that is among or around those using drugs or alcohol is not in a safe environment," said Callaghan, who becomes WHS principal on July 1.

The school committee did not vote Wednesday night. Chairman Ilyse Levine-Kanji said the board welcomed more public input, and will discuss the proposed changes again May 8, and possibly May 21.

School board member Bruce Tretter said the school committee's policy subcommittee seeks "to clarify the policy" through the proposed changes.

"We know from three years of woirking with this policy that there was a phrase in there that people were most concerned with, and that was 'knowingly in the presence of.' We took a close look at that," Tretter said.

The policy's latest draft now begins with "The purpose of this policy is to protect the health, safety and welfare of all students and to encourage responsible decision-making." The phrase "and to encourage responsible decision-making" is proposed to be added.

The draft also reads, "'Knowingly in the presence of' is defined as being or remaining at a site, or in a building, residence, or vehicle in which a controlled substance or alcohol is being used, consumed, or possessed, including alcohol consumed or possessed by a person under the age of twenty one (21). 'Knowingly in the presence' shall not apply to activities that a student attends with his or her parent(s) or legal guardian(s) where controlled substances are legally consumed as long as the student does not personally consume those substances.

"Please note that 'knowingly in the presence' primarily addresses unsupervised, underage gatherings where alcohol or other illegal substances are consumed.

"Common sense prevails in that 'knowingly in the presence' is not intended to punish a student's presence in legally licensed establishments that serve alcohol, family gatherings, religious convocations or other responsible, adult supervised events and activities so long as the student does not consume alcohol, tobacco, or any other controlled substance to which the student does not have a prescription."

The subcommittee also proposes adding that "Violations are not limited to on-campus behaviors and activities, and will include after school events, weekends and school vacations."

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

But, Donovan said that under the policy, "I'm going to get in the same amount of trouble whether I have a beer or I don't have a beer."

Donovan presented the board with some data. Levine-Kanji said Donovan had expressed an interest in this issue, news which did not sit well with member Jody Hensley.

"The rest of the school committee was not aware that Mike had contacted the chairman. So, thank you for letting us know," Hensley said.

Most parents attending opposed the changes.

Former school committee member George Thompson said he voted for the policy in 2004, but now "I haven't seen anything that supports that vote."

The "knowingly in the presence" language is "too punitive" to a student who doesn't drink but stays at a party to ensure his friend's safety, Thompson said.

But, Hensley said she had "spoken to at least one dozen parents who support this policy."

"We have a policy that's working. It's setting an expectation that sets a very positive tone," Hensley said.

School board member Nicole Sullivan said that "98 percent" of the e-mails she has received on this proposal were against it.

She said that "the people who should be held accountable" are the parties' hosts.

"If one family was found in violation of this law, a lot of it would end," Sullivan said.

Police Chief Alan Gordon said "we have charged families with hosting parties."

"We've borne the brunt of a lot of wrath from people" as a result, Gordon said.

"The last thing we want to do is charge any of our students."

TBH April 25, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Just who do these parents think they are protecting? Their child's unblemished college resume?! If your kid is attending a party with underage drinking, it is their responsibility to get out of the situation and report it. Sticking around and watching their friends drink under the guise of "protecting their friend's safety" is not socially responsible behavior. They are minors and as such, should not bear the weight of monitoring the situation. Are the host parents most culpable? Absolutely and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Look at it this way... if your child has a junior operator's license, they cannot transport any alcohol whether there is an adult present in the car or not. In other words, you can't invite your son or daughter along on a trip to Stop and Shop, pick up a bottle of wine for yourself, and allow your child to do the driving back to your house. It's called zero tolerance. If the parents can accept this, the kids will understand the weight of their actions as well. Wake up Westborough.
john priest April 25, 2013 at 04:10 PM
First off, I would like to thank the School Committee and the Chemical Health Policy subcommittee for the work that they have done and the open dialogue at the meeting last night. In order to have a productive discussion on the topic going forward we need to make sure a couple of things are clearly stated and reported: 1. I did not hear any objection to the MIAA Policy or the local/state laws that are in place that prohibit underage usage, consumption or possession of alcohol or any controlled substances. The MIAA Policy should continue to be the foundation of the WHS Chemical Health Policy. 2.Not counting the School Committee members or the Policy Subcommittee members, 100% of the parents in attendance at the meeting would like to see the “guilt by association” clause removed from the Policy. Instead of more school enforcement and school punishment, let’s have our schools focus on education and work as a community to offer positive choices like Project Graduation for the students.
TBH April 25, 2013 at 04:37 PM
John, I think going forward, you can have both positive choices and education along with the clear understanding that judgements need to be made and hanging around watching others drink is not sound judgement. Again, I have to ask... who are you protecting? Remember, Project Graduation happens only on one night. Remember the lessons taught by Chris Herren...it's about the average Friday and Saturday nights. Don't bury your head in the sand for the sake of protecting students that should know better. That is the education component we are talking about.
john priest April 25, 2013 at 05:00 PM
TBH, "Sound judgement" is very subjective - what I think is sound judgement could be very different from your view. I do not think the SC should be defining this for us and the schools should focus on education and activities within the school. I am very aware of what happens on a Friday or Saturday night and if my children make poor decisions based on my judgement they will be punished. I don't need the schools to help me - I would prefer that they keep focused on making our school district #1 in the state.
TBH April 25, 2013 at 05:17 PM
John, the point of all this is that there should be no gray area when it comes to these choices. Nothing subjective about it. No child should participate nor stand back and observe said activities. This in no way dilutes the school's resources or is causing it lose its "focus on education"... the math, english and science depts. will carry on as usual. If anything, it will help the student body maintain focus and therefore make it better. From reading this article, the concern expressed on behalf of the parents seemed to have more to do with the consequences of a kid getting in as much trouble as an actual participant... not the dilution of school resources.
john priest April 25, 2013 at 07:08 PM
TBH - Nicely done, you just reinforced the point I was making. While you state "No child should participate nor stand back and observe said activities", I have a different view on the subject. I do not have a problem if my child is "knowingly in presence" of another student that chooses to break the law. I trust that that are going to make smart decisions about the situation - if they don't my wife and I will take care of any discipline that is necessary. In fact, if one of their friends makes a poor decision and drinks I would hope that they stay to help make sure their friend gets home safely. To me, this debate boils down to a very simple issue - unless my child is doing something illegal or is in the school boundaries, leave the moral judgement to my family.
TBH April 25, 2013 at 07:56 PM
John, I wish I lived in your world, but unfortunately, I live in Westborough, where underage drinking happens far more frequently than most parents are willing to acknowledge. The willingness to accept that this goes on and that it's all fine and dandy as long as my child is not an active participant is the very reason these incidents continue to happen. The "smart decision" you are assuming your child will make should not be be just to be a bystander, but to remove themselves from the situation entirely and of course, report it to a responsible adult. Anything short of that is being complicit and somehow normalizing the situation. In your world, it's ok as long as your kid doesn't join in. I'm not willing to let my child be a part of that situation and put the responsibility on him/her to ensure that others arrive home safely. If you can teach your child the correct way to handle the situation, no such "moral judgements" will made about their actions.
Tom April 25, 2013 at 08:42 PM
TBH, the problem is kids who make the right choice, and leave but were reported as being there are punished... THAT is wrong
Tom April 25, 2013 at 08:45 PM
TBH, that is not realistic... for our Seniors, just three months after they graduate they will be in the EXACT situation and need the tools to be able to handle it. Just closing our eyes and saying "NO<NO<NO" does not help and in fact sends them off to college unprepared for a situation they most certainly will face
john priest April 26, 2013 at 03:17 AM
TBH - I respect your comment "I'm not willing to let my child be a part of that situation and put the responsibility on him/her to ensure that others arrive home safely" You have the right to make this decision/action as a parent. Hopefully, the SC will respect other parents/students rights to make their own decision about the same situation without being punished by the school. The MetroWest Community Health Foundation released the results of their most recent survey on substance abuse by students and there is good news and bad news. Overall, substance abuse by Westborough students is on a downward trend over the past 6 years. However, when we compare Westborough's trend to the average in the MetroWest region, our survey result do not look as good. I would be interested to see any data that directly shows Westborough's "guilt by association" clause is helping to improve the substance abuse numbers.
Tom April 26, 2013 at 03:32 AM
John, Actually, the most alarming stat was the % of kids who admitted driving with a driver who under the influence, I think it was up 500%... I guess when the designated drivers are forbidden from going with their friends you get this unintended consequence which endangers everyone on the roads in town
TBH April 26, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Tom, you make it sound as if these parties are a necessary right of passage and without this exposure they will be defenseless. This is really there same mindset of the families that allow these parties to take place on their watch... better here than in some parking lot, right? Sorry, but there are other ways to teach your kids about right or wrong.
Tom April 26, 2013 at 12:15 PM
TBH, No I am not. for the record I am opposed to them and think the homeowners should be held wholly accountable. If a series of homeowners were arrested and names were in the papers and they were dragged through the courts, the party scene would dry up quick. But to think they can be totally stopped is dangerously naive. Drunk driving is illegal yet adults still do it. What we need is to give our kids the tools to deal with these situations. Simply telling them "no parties" isn't doing anything and in fact the data shows that policy has been an abject failure
TBH April 26, 2013 at 12:28 PM
Quite a leap to imply that the guilt by association clause is driving up those stats. If that were the case, then the failure is in the education component in all this (at home and in the schools), not the clause itself. Bottom line to me is let's listen to those that are on the front lines here, and that is not you, nor I, nor any other parent that is only dealing with their own children, but rather the school administrators and town police that are seeing and dealing with these situations on a daily basis. They all collectively see the need and value in having this clause in place. It helps define the behavior, sets boundaries and positive expectations, and those who are administering it, believe that it is working. Do you actually think that the school wants to be involved in dealing with these situations? Of course not, but it is reality and we need to give them the tools to most effectively deal with what they are confronted with.
TBH April 26, 2013 at 12:34 PM
Tom, this isn't about abolishing parties, but rather making those parties an undesirable place to be a part of. No, I do not think they can ever be totally stopped, but I do not believe that it is a child's rite of passage to attend them and therefore learn how to deal with the situation before they head off to college. That's a form of justification.
Tom April 26, 2013 at 12:36 PM
TBH, I did not say *IT* was driving up the stats, just that is was a failure in bringing them down which is its main goal. Further, I would add that there were only I think 5 districts that have the guilt by association clause. the fact that drinking/driving/drug use is DOWN in metrowest more than in Westborough and kids driving with impaired drivers in UP in Westborough more than metrowest and the ONLY difference in the policies in this particular clause is more than a little telling
Tom April 26, 2013 at 12:40 PM
TBH, For me it is simple... If "Policy A" is there for a certain reason, to change behavior, and that behavior is not only not changing but getting worse, the policy, whatever it is is a failure and something else must be done. To simply continue a 6yr old policy that has had no effect on the behavior it is intended to change (the behavior has got worse) is wrong
TBH April 26, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Tom, you are relying on supporting your argument that this clause and this clause alone is the sole link to this statistic. That is a leap to judgement that the police department, at the very least, is not willing to make. As you say, could something else be done? Absolutely, and that should be explored but not at the expense of loosening the expectations that are already in place. Sends the the completely opposite message about party culture in general.
Tom April 26, 2013 at 12:49 PM
I suggest everyone watch the meeting mms://173.76.0.114:81/TRMSVOD/4614-1-WestboroughSchoolCommitteemeeting24April2013.wmv
Tom April 26, 2013 at 12:57 PM
TBH, why do you say the police are not making it? Chief gordon at the meeting specifically said he "had no opinion on it". Inferring they either support it or do not is not possible. I would say that the fact kids at a party who are not drinking, according the gordon at the meeting are released w/o a name taken is telling though
TBH April 26, 2013 at 01:08 PM
The school administrators certainly want it. The police are trying to stay neutral about school policy in general, which is not their domain. Keep protecting your kids, though.That's really what this is all about.
Tom April 26, 2013 at 01:10 PM
Just because a policy is "wanted" does not mean it is "best". Rather than blindly sticking to a policy that has NOT had it intended effect, I would want to see what districts having better results are doing..
TBH April 26, 2013 at 01:20 PM
I do not see the link that you are so desperately trying to create between the two. Can we do more or better? I certainly hope so, but that will not happen by removing consequences and there fore normalizing the culture of these events. We can do better. We can do more. It's not about protecting reputations. You are doing kids no favors by teaching them to stand back and watch. It's a slippery slope.
Tom April 26, 2013 at 01:28 PM
TBH, you have to watch the meeting.... those in favor of the policy at the meeting claim the policy makes us better and gives us better results. the data clearly says that is not the case. I am not "desperately" trying to make a connection, the data made it for me
TBH April 26, 2013 at 01:58 PM
You are still the one making the link to connect the statistics to this one clause without considering other factors that may be contributing to the results. You are the one claiming that softening the policy will produce better results. I don't believe that. I believe that kids need to learn how to stand up for what is right... not stand back and watch. Consequences for actions or inactions are a well needed part of society. Why did Steubenville happen? Complicity on the part of those that were there, both as participants and bystanders.

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