Since last spring, I have been working with representatives from the Coordinating Council of Parent Associations (CCPA) and Roslyn Alliance Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse (RADA) to organize a community forum next March on the subject of teenage alcohol use. Parents suggested this topic out of concern for the health and safety of middle and high school youngsters, hoping that raising awareness about teenage drinking may encourage parents to become more involved in addressing the issue.
It was with more than a little interest that I read two articles in The New York Times recently on this very topic. Two Westchester County high schools, in communities not unlike Roslyn, have had some serious incidents concerning teens and alcohol.
In one case, a number of students were suspended from the football team after attending an unsupervised party at a student's home where beer and other alcoholic beverages were being served. Though the drinking occurred off school grounds, the students were suspended because they admitted to violating a code of conduct for student athletes that prohibits drinking and using drugs.
In the other incident reported in The Times, a large number of students arrived at a homecoming dance already intoxicated. Dozens of students were suspended from school, and there will be no more school dances there for some time.
Tragically, in a prior incident at one of these two schools, a young man died at a beer party when he was punched, fell and hit his head on a patio.
Both adults and teenagers in these communities were quoted in the articles. Some denied that the drinking that occurred in these incidents was excessive. Others acknowledged that the drinking that took place did get out of hand, but were quick to point out that it was not unique to their high school. This is undoubtedly true, but it doesn't begin to address the matter in an appropriate and meaningful way.
I don't consider it a valid approach to assume that "it couldn't happen here" or that any amount of unsupervised, underage drinking is acceptable. As the record clearly demonstrates, Roslyn students are very hard working and accomplished. They study hard and are involved in a very large number of extracurricular and athletic activities. But so are most of the students in these other two high schools where drinking got out of hand.
I am therefore very pleased that the CCPA has chosen this topic for its forum, which is scheduled on March 19, 2003. By now, Roslyn parents should have received in the mail a survey about alcohol use. For those who have not yet filled it out, I urge you to do so and mail it back to us. The data we gather from these surveys, along with surveys of middle and high school students, will be presented to the community at the forum in March and elsewhere.
Like other forums we have held over the years, this event promises to be highly informative and thought provoking. It is hoped that it will make us all more aware of the realities of student drinking so we can become even more proactive in our approach to preventing our youngsters from engaging in potentially life-threatening behavior.
Of course, we already address this issue in a number of ways, including in health classes and forums for students and parents. RADA has organized educational events on drug and alcohol abuse for many years, especially during Red Ribbon Week (October 21-25). Nassau County's high school principals meet periodically just to discuss strategies for dealing with teen drug and alcohol use. Our steadily expanding athletic program actively encourages healthy lifestyle choices.
Working together as a school community, we have successfully met the challenge of other difficult issues. For the sake of our children's health and safety, we must strive to do so on the issue of teenage drinking as well.