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Oxford Schools Talk Substance Abuse Prevention

by Ethan Fry | Apr 12, 2012 7:23 am

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Posted to: Oxford

Students going to Oxford High School’s prom next month may have to pass a Breathalyzer test to gain admission.

That was one of several ideas that came up during a Board of Education meeting Tuesday (April 10) during Superintendent John Reed’s report to members.

Reed referred to recent media coverage of substance abuse issues at Oxford High School — reports on the issue have appeared recently in the Valley Indy and Oxford Patch.

Reed said he wanted to make sure Oxford isn’t “being viewed in a manner that differentiates it in an unfair way from other communities.”

Still, he brought up several different ideas to combat substance abuse within the school.

Reed also said the issue would be discussed at a meeting Thursday (April 12) including town and school officials.

The Breathalyzer idea, which Reed said was suggested earlier Wednesday by Frank Savo, the principal of Oxford High School, would first need to pass through the school board’s policy subcommittee, noted board Chair Paula Guillet.

Other ideas Reed brought up included:

  • The formation of a community-wide “prevention council” made up of school and town officials, parents, pediatricians, clergy, and other leaders.
  • Conducting anonymous surveys of students to see exactly how many are using or experimenting with drugs or alcohol, which would let school officials know the real extent of the problem.

Reed said Wednesday that since his appointment as superintendent is temporary — the school board is currently searching for a replacement — ideas like the prevention council and surveys might be implemented better if officials wait for a new superintendent.

But he said the strategies suggested helped address substance abuse issue during his tenure in Newtown, where he was superintendent for more than 20 years.

For instance, students attending proms in Newtown have had their breath tested for alcohol for the past 15 years. While administrators there never sent home “large legions of kids,” such a policy can have teeth only if officials are “willing to rain on someone’s parade.”

“We haven’t noticed any upswing of drinking,” Reed said during the meeting. “It’s not because we suddenly suspect five kids for being in school under the influence of alcohol. This is a preventative measure.”

Savo said during the meeting that officials in Trumbull, where he used to work, have been Breathalyzing students attending dances for six years and “never had any issue with anybody.”

The principal said the Breathalyzer is a deterrent: if students know their breath will be checked at the door of a dance, they won’t drink beforehand.

The superintendent said the Breathalyzer could remain in the nurse’s office the rest of the year and be used only if school personnel believed a student is drunk at school.

Reed said he brought the ideas up Tuesday to gauge the feelings of board members. If they seemed adamantly opposed to the idea, he would stop pursuing it, he said.

Those who spoke about the idea during the meeting seemed receptive.

Board Member Stephen Brown said measures like those discussed Tuesday certainly seem appropriate given the “confusion” that sometimes exists for students who are taught about drug and alcohol abuse in school, but then see instances of parents hosting parties and providing alcohol to students and society taking more relaxed attitudes toward marijuana use.

Guillet noted that any changes in policy should focus on prevention, not punishment.

“I think it’s our job to educate the kids and not necessarily police them,” she said.

Guillet also mentioned during the meeting a letter written by Jerry Schwab, the executive director of the Oxford Ambulance Association to First Selectman George Temple last month raising issues about drug and behavior issues in the school. Guillet was cc’d on the letter and said she would discuss the issues mentioned in it during the meeting Thursday between town and school officials.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Schwab said the developments at Tuesday’s meeting sound like steps in the right direction.

“I’m happy and excited the Board of Education has taken this issue seriously and is actually doing something about this,” Schwab said. “It sounds like they bounced around some good ideas. I applaud them.”

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