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Police may visit student parties
Sunday, April 17, 2005
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SOUTH HADLEY - A community task force looking into ways to fight drug and alcohol use by town youths is expected to come up with an action plan next month that could include parenting workshops and "awareness visits" by police to homes that host frequent parties, according to Daniel T. Smith, principal of South Hadley High School.

Smith said recently the Communitywide Drug and Alcohol Task Force may finish writing an action plan to be implemented next fall when it meets for the fourth time at 6:30 p.m. on May 4 in the library at South Hadley High School. The public is invited to meetings of the group, which consists of about 30 people, including police, parents and representatives from the South Hadley Teen Center, the high school and the school superintendent's office.

The school system has been more conscious of drug and alcohol use by students since heroin and heroin paraphernalia were found at South Hadley High School last spring.

Smith and School Superintendent Gus A. Sayer have led the group, which has met since late February. Sayer said the School Department is working with the Hampshire Educational Collaborative in Northampton to seek state and federal grant money with other Western Massachusetts communities to fund efforts to stem substance abuse problems.

Sayer said the department has also included funding for a substance abuse counselor in its proposed fiscal 2006 budget so there will be more help available.

Smith said he has been pleased with the response from community members who have joined the task force.

"It helps to have the community embrace this community wide problem and get beyond seeing it as just a school problem," Smith said. "It is difficult for a community to face an issue like this and admit there is an issue."

Members of the Police Department in the group have suggested they might visit parents who host frequent parties to let them know allowing drug and alcohol use by minors is illegal, according to Smith. The principal said there are some parents who are substance abusers who furnish drugs and alcohol to their children or overlook its use.

"Parents and some community members know this is going on and they don't step up to stop it all the time," Smith said. "There are some situations where the kids run the house."

However, the principal estimated at most only 3 to 5 percent of parents fall into that category. The task force may recommend workshops for parents to give them guidance and support and make them more effective monitors of their children, he said.

Smith said a Youth Risk Behavior Survey done in 2003 showed 20 percent of town students drank alcohol before the age of 13 and 9 percent used marijuana before the age of 13. This compares to state averages of 28 percent for drinking before the age of 13 and 12 percent using marijuana before the age of 13.

"Our figures aren't wild. They are just below the state averages in things, but it's still significant for us," Smith said.
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