The fledgling Clarke County Community Coalition held its second meeting on Thursday at the Clarke County High School. The group, made up of school and law enforcement officials, parents and students, hopes to develop an approach for combating alcohol, drug abuse and other destructive decisions by Clarke County students.
Clarke County High School Principal Dr. John Werner, who chaired the meeting, facilitated a dialogue of goals and potential approaches for the coming school year and will be the faculty sponsor for the initiative.
Werner and the other coalition members, which includes family members of Aaron Shirley and another teen injured in the June 19 traffic accident that claimed the life of the Clarke County High School senior, discussed approaches for improving teen decision making, community perception of the substance abuse problem in Clarke County, and how best to take advantage of help offered by state and local agencies.
Leea Shirley, co-founder of the newly formed CCHS Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter told the meeting attendees that many people in the Clarke County community do not believe that underage drinking is a significant problem.
Shirley, a nurse with the Lord Fairfax Health District and Aaron Shirley’s sister-in-law, along with CCHS student Holly Robinson, formed the SADD chapter as a way to help prevent future alcohol-related teen deaths through education and prevention. The Community Coalition is an effort to further involve the community in preventing underage drinking and other destructive decisions.
Much of Thursday’s two hour meeting was dedicated to determining how existing resources from various agencies and programs can be marshaled into programs and forums for Clarke County students.
Asked if the CCPS intended to add any new funding for curriculum or personnel to supplement the effort, Dr. Werner deferred budget decisions to future deliberations by the school board.
Assistant Superintendent, Rick Catlett, also present at the meeting, said that CCPS is considering holding a public hearing, possibly in September, that will allow the public to voice their opinions about additions to the school budget.
“The purpose of the public hearing would be to find out what parents and community members think should be included that isn’t there now. It’s a chance to get input from the public before the school budget is developed,” Catlett said.
In many school systems topics related to personal health and responsibility, including alcohol and drug awareness, are taught in “family life” sessions. Currently Clarke County does not offer a family life curriculum, but plans to implement one over the coming school year.
“The family life program will take all of next year to get going,” Werner said. “It won’t happen overnight.”
CCPS Athletic Director, Casey Childs suggested to the group that physical education periods could be used to deliver alcohol awareness training. “In Loudoun County they use a physical education class period to teach Family Life,” Childs said.
In addition to a Family Life curriculum, a range of other approaches were discussed.
For example, Dr. Werner said that he believes that the Clarke County Educational Foundation would be willing to fund programs like a “Character Summit” where students, working with community leaders, are presented with morals and ethical scenarios designed to help the student consider his or her response well in advance of encountering the problem in reality.
Other approaches discussed included school assemblies presented by local judges and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office to allow students to understand the legal consequences of poor decision making; Classes to familiarize parents with technologies such as Facebook, internet practices, and electronic messaging discovery; The use of student surveys to gain a better understanding of student behavior and student suggestions for solving issues that affect young people.
Dr. Werner discussed prior success that he has had with involving local alcohol retailers in fighting underage drinking through a “Sticker Shock” program.
“In other places where I’ve taught we’ve gone to convenience stores and placed stickers on beer and wine packaging to warn the purchaser about the consequences of providing alcohol to minors.” Werner said. Werner said that most merchants firmly supported sticker shock efforts.
A portion of the discussion centered on punitive methods to deliver the substance abuse message to student violators.
Concerned parent, Todd Carlisle said that drug testing for student athletes is an important component of the solution.
“I don’t want to see the focus on drug testing fade away,” Carlisle said. “If funds are limited for drug testing then we need to figure out how to raise the money to pay for it.”
Principal Werner agreed that drug testing was important but replied to Carlisle that testing programs are also expensive.
“At $50 dollars a drug test it will cost $9K a season to test every athlete. With three athletic seasons a year that’s almost $30K,” Werner said.
One parent suggested that drug tests be treated similarly to the mandatory, physical examinations required for school athletic participation.
“School athletes pay for their own physicals now, why not require them to also pay the $50 cost for the drug testing? Why should Clarke County taxpayers cover the cost?”
Near the end of the meeting both Leea Shirley and Todd Carlisle expressed opinions that there is a strong public belief that information about supposedly random drug testing schedules is being routinely leaked in advance to athletes. If drug testing schedules were leaked in advance, substance abusing athletes conceivably could alter their consumption habits to avoid detection.
The suggestion of impropriety in Clarke County’s drug testing program drew a visceral response from Athletic Director, Casey Childs.
“That is absolutely false,” Childs said. “I know how that program works and nothing like that has ever happened in any way, shape or form.”
In attempting to move the heated discussion on drug testing from perception to facts, CCHS Principal John Werner asked Ms. Shirley “What is your evidence for believing that drug testing is not being conducted properly?”
“We’ll talk about that in private,” Shirley replied.
The Community Coalition meeting was also attended by Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Special Agent Glenn Moore. Moore said that he had received two complaints in the last ten days of alcohol being sold to minors in Clarke County.
Moore said that his department can provide an enforcement resource to the school system.
“The school system can pass issues on to Alcoholic Beverage Control to work on with local law enforcement resources,” Moore said. “We have young agents that we send into parties for sting operations. Once arrests are made we can then take action from a criminal standpoint.”
Special Agent Moore said that tips and complaints can be made anonymously to the ABC office in Staunton, Virginia at 540.332.7800.