Thursday, December 19, 2002

Teen host of underage party tells her side

Published in the Current

Cape High School Principal Jeff Shedd has taken his campaign against teen drinking, drugging and partying to a new level, now having scofflaws tell
their stories publicly or face more conventional punishment.

A Nov. 29 party in town prompted Shedd to begin enforcing a long-ignored school rule preventing students from hosting or attending parties where alcohol and drugs are being consumed.

Allie Stevens, a junior at CEHS and a member of the chool’s state champion swim team, told the Current she unwittingly became the host of a party the day after Thanksgiving, while her father was away from home. She said she was given the opportunity to lessen her punishment by talking to the press.

Though he could not comment on specifics, Shedd said no other students were disciplined.

He did say the incidents at Stevens’s home contributed to his decision to tighten restrictions on teen partiers.

According to swim coach Kerry Kertes, Stevens is missing three swim meets for a combination of infractions, including the party and another unrelated violation of team rules. The last meet was Thursday against Cheverus.

Stevens ended up as the host of the party, but says she neither instigated it or consumed alcohol or drugs once it began.

She said she doesn’t understand why the party is the school’s business. “It happened outside of school,” she said.

Student-athletes are required to sign a contract in which they pledge not to drink or do drugs during sports seasons, regardless of the hour or location.

Depending on the type and number of violations, as well as how the school finds out about them, breaches of the contract are punishable by suspensions from games or meets, or from teams entirely.

Stevens said the contract doesn’t apply to her, in this case, because she was not drinking or doing drugs.

Shedd said he is now enforcing a “long-standing” rule relating to “substance abuse by (students) off school grounds and outside of school hours,” which he warned parents about in a Dec. 12 letter.

Students who find themselves hosting parties should call parents or police to end the party or face disciplinary action at school, Shedd advised in the letter. Students attending parties with drugs or alcohol present should leave or face investigation for possible violations of school rules.

At the party
The party in question began the evening of Nov. 29, as a group of friends got together at Stevens’ Shore Road home intending to go see a movie, Stevens said.

The teens never made it to the movie, because other teens – including some kids from other towns – had heard that the adults in the home were away, and arrived uninvited, with alcohol and drugs.

“People just started showing up at my house,” Stevens said. About 60 people were at the party. Some were high school students, others recent graduates and still others were people from other towns. They were drinking and smoking, though nothing in the house was damaged, Stevens said.

Around 10:30 p.m., the police showed up, responding to an anonymous tip. They called Allie’s father, Dan Stevens, who owns the home, and got permission to go inside, police said.

Officers broke the party up without issuing any summonses or arresting anyone. Police Chief Neil Williams said, “it was so out of control and overwhelming” that they wanted to end it quickly.

Allie’s mother, Karen Stevens, lives nearby and went over to see what was going on. She saw a lot of kids and a lot of alcohol – as many as three cases of beer, she said.

All of the kids denied to police and to Karen that they had been drinking.

A mother’s reaction
“It was a real eye-opener for me,” Karen said.

When she got home, she called parents of kids she had seen at the party and told them what she had seen. Some of the parents told her they knew their kids were there, and their kids had said they weren’t drinking.

After the weekend, she called the school and told Assistant Principal Mark Tinkham what had happened.

“I know that my daughter was concerned that kids wouldn’t be her friends anymore because of me talking with Mark Tinkham about it,” Karen said. But that didn’t stop her. "I feel like I had to say something. I feel that as parents we are responsible for our own children.”

She said she has heard that kids feel like they have to drink to have fun. “I just don’t understand that mentality, ” Karen said. And further, “I don’t agree with it – it’s illegal.”

She agreed with kids’ concerns that there is not a lot to do, socially, in Cape Elizabeth.

“There’s a nice community center now, and if they made it more attractive to kids” it could help the social situation in Cape, Karen said.

“I just think basically the kids just want to hang out with their friends,” Karen said.

Kids who don’t drink will spend time with drinking friends, just for the social interaction, she said.

“I don’t think these kids understand” the consequences of drinking, she said. One way to help them understand would be “if more parents would speak up.”

She felt obligated to do something as a parent, but also because it isn’t just athletes who sign a contract to avoid alcohol and drugs. “I signed that contract also.”

She is grateful the school administration is making an effort to address the problem.

“I’m just glad that the school is taking the stand that they have, and I hope more parents will come forward,” Karen said.

Many parents, she said, don’t want their kids to have to miss sporting events, but that’s not the worst that could happen.

“I thought, ‘This is crazy. ’ I don’t want to end up going to some kid’s funeral,” Karen said.

Allie’s father, Dan Stevens, told the Current he did not have time to talk about the incident until after the holidays.

Not just one incident
Police Chief Williams said partying hasn’t increased or decreased since he was a young man growing up in town, but he welcomed the help from the schools to cut down on a problem that won’t go away. He said the renewed enforcement has already prevented one party, originally planned for Dec. 13.

The mother of a 14-year-old student was out of town for nearly a week, and the student was supposed to be staying with a family member elsewhere in town. The student’s peers found out about the empty house and decided to have a party, despite the student’s own desire not to, Williams said.

“Here’s another example of parents leaving 14- or 15-year-old kids home alone,” Williams said. “You’re asking for disaster. ”

The new enforcement at the school, Williams said, was the deterring factor for the teen, who Williams said is an athlete and worried about being kicked off a team.

Allie Stevens doesn’t face that, because her party happened before Shedd announced the rule enforcement.

Allie said she had gone to similar parties at other people’s homes when parents weren’t present and would go in the future.

“You’re not supposed to do it, but kids do it anyway,” Allie said. “Our parents did it when they were growing up,” she said.

“Kids know how to handle it responsibly,” Allie said, adding after a moment’s thought that the phrase “drinking responsibly” may not make much sense for teenagers.

Today’s teens are careful to have designated drivers, she said. And breaking up the party is difficult. As the teen supposedly in charge of the house, “there’s nothing you can do,” Allie said, when people just keep coming in. She said Shedd had told her that she should call the police if such an incident happens again.

But, she said, that’s unreasonable. “I’d be the laughingstock of the school if I called the cops on my own party,” Allie said.

Williams said some teens have called the police on parties at their own houses, when things get too big or out of hand, though such instances are “very rare.”

Teens need to gather, Allie said, and if it’s not going to happen in someone’s home, it will be elsewhere.

Cape needs “a place to hang out where everyone can go,” she said.

Otherwise, they’ll end up in somebody’s home, when the parents aren’t there.

“Unfortunately, nowadays you have to cover all your bases if you’re not going to take your son or daughter on your trip,” Williams said.

Parents can also give police a letter allowing officers to enter their homes and property if there is a party occurring, Williams said. Without that, it can be hard for police to get access to a house to stop a party.

Parents, whether home or not, can be held civilly liable for damages if teens get injured or killed following a party on their property, Williams said.

“It’s a parental issue,” Williams said. “Know where your kids are, and check on them.” Call houses where your kids say they will be, and trust parental instincts. “If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong,” he said. He also encouraged parents to impose “real punishments” on kids who violate laws and family rules.