Thursday, October 31, 2002

Cape appeals to parents, tightens rules, to stop teen drinking

Published in the Current

In a letter to parents of Cape Elizabeth High School students, Principal Jeff Shedd laid out new procedures for chaperoning dances and challenged parents to help reduce student drinking outside of school functions. He also attacked the current athletic contract on abstaining from substance abuse as ineffective.

One student was suspended after the recent homecoming dance because the student was drunk at the dance and got sick. Shedd’s letter, which went out on Oct. 16, said he had heard of other students who might have been drinking or drunk at the dance, some of whom may have gotten sick in the girls’ bathroom.

The “narrow school problem” of drinking at or before dances, Shedd said, will be solved with additional chaperones, increasing numbers but also broadening the range of adults who will supervise dances.

Previously, dances had to have six chaperones, all staff members at the school, one of whom had to be the faculty advisor of the class sponsoring the dance.

Now, there will be nearly triple that number, with six CEHS staff, six parents, one administrator and the sponsoring class’s faculty advisor, for a total of 14. In addition, there will be one coach from each sport in season, as well as a police officer.

In addition, existing rules preventing students from bringing bags and bottles into the dance and prohibiting students from leaving the dance and then returning will continue to be enforced, Shedd said.

The additional supervision will make it easier for adults to enforce these, he said.

Shedd’s letter went on to say, “these measures will do nothing, however, to address the community-wide issue of teenage substance abuse and drinking at events outside of school.”

Shedd encouraged parents to work together to send consistent messages to children in the community, and asked parents to include in their in-home discipline a requirement that students who are caught drinking report themselves to school authorities, as required in the school’s athletic contract.

He said the “act of signing an athletic contract is an excusable lie they are forced to tell as the price for participating in school athletics.” If parents don’t enforce the athletic contract, they are making things worse, the letter said.

The School Board last year changed the athletic contract to make it more pointed and to encourage parents to act responsibly when their kids violate the provisions, which include forswearing drugs and alcohol on penalty of suspension from a game or sports season.

“It’s still not enough,” Shedd told the Current.

A recent meeting of the High School Parents Association had an extended discussion on the subject of teen drinking, Shedd said.

Beth Currier, vice president of the HSPA, said the meeting was the group’s normal monthly meeting and had been scheduled to include a question and-answer session with Shedd and assistant principal Mark Tinkham even before Shedd’s letter went home to parents.

But as a result of the letter, Currier said, “we had a much better than average turnout,” around 30 parents rather than the usual 10.

Currier said parents appreciated the letter. “It was really helpful to have an issue like that addressed with the facts,” she said. She was glad the school was communicating directly with parents on the issue.

The parents who were at the meeting, mostly with children in their freshman and sophomore years, were interested in dealing with the problem, and agreed that school dances were but a small part of the problem.

“We can make the dances chem-free,” Currier said. “The hard issue that we need to talk about and change is really the community climate culture change.”

She said a sports booster group had met the night before and discussed whether the athletic contract works, and why it applies to just athletes.

Currier said the parents agreed they could meet and discuss the issue of teen drinking for many hours, but decided to also address other questions about the high school and have another similar session at the next parents association meeting, Dec. 4.

Currier said if there was still interest in dealing with the subject, the association would look at scheduling a special meeting on the issue.

She said in the past she has noticed that people get concerned about teen drinking when something happens, but when nothing has happened for a while, “it disappears quickly” from discussion topics.

“It is hard to make real changes,” she said.

But she said there is concern about weekend parties, as well as school parties, and was looking forward to seeing how the next discussion went.