Aspen to look at its attitude on drug use | AspenTimes.com

Aspen to look at its attitude on drug use

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen will examine its attitude toward drugs during a panel discussion next week at Aspen High School.

Law enforcement, school district and other officials who grapple with the effects of drug use will be placed on the spot to answer what may be some tough questions about whether the resort community is tough enough on illegal drug use, according to organizer Heidi Houston.

Houston is chairwoman of the Health and Social Well-Being Committee, a subcommittee of the District Accountability Committee, a group of Aspen School District teachers and administrators, as well as parents and community members.

Substance abuse was already a concern for Houston’s group, she said, when the October arrest of two Aspen High students who were caught in a cocaine transaction on campus pushed the issue to the forefront.

“The panel is being put together so the community can ask the questions it always wanted to ask about drugs and alcohol,” she said.

The panel discussion, scheduled Wednesday, Dec. 11, in the AHS seminar room, will feature Sheriff Bob Braudis, Police Chief Loren Ryerson, district Superintendent Tom Farrell, Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, Augie Reno, president of the Aspen School Board, and Shelley Molz, director of the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention.

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In addition, Houston hopes to impanel a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and a representative of either the Aspen Counseling Center or Colorado West Counseling Center. The discussion is set for 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Houston, a local real estate broker and the mother of two school-age children, will moderate. Audience members will write their questions on cards, which will be passed to her to pose to the panelists. She is also accepting questions in advance at hhouston@sopris.net.

Judging from the questions she has already received, Houston expects the panelists to face some pointed inquiries.

“It’s going to be tough, I can tell you. They’re going to be pretty tough, especially on the police and the sheriff: Why can our kids buy drugs willy-nilly all over town?” she said.

There is a perception, Houston said, that Aspen turns its head the other way when it comes to drug use and that youngsters can obtain illegal substances more easily as a result.

“They can get cocaine easier than they get a bottle of beer,” she said. “We have a problem in the community with drugs. We know that.”

The real question will be what to do about it. Following the panel discussion, Houston’s committee hopes to organize a group specifically to delve into the community’s policies regarding drug and alcohol awareness and enforcement.

It is an issue that surfaces periodically when an event, like the recent arrest of the two teenagers, galvanizes the community, noted Mayor Klanderud.

“There are certainly those who will say your schools reflect, or your kids reflect, the norms of the community,” she said.

In the past, Aspen has not coalesced behind a heavy-handed crackdown when it comes to drug use, Klanderud observed.

“I don’t think the community would support that approach,” she said.

“In all the years I’ve been here, the community has never taken a strong stand on what their beliefs are,” Farrell said. “I think we have to take a clear stand as a community.”

Farrell said he hopes Aspenites come away from the panel discussion with the understanding that drug use is not simply a school issue ? it’s a community issue.

“The community needs to deal with it in coordination with the school,” he said.

School district officials have already agreed they need to review the policy dealing with students caught using or selling drugs, as well as the district’s curriculum on drug prevention. It has not been a priority for the past several years, Farrell conceded.

“We have a lot of curriculum for drug education, and it’s good curriculum, but it’s not being implemented across the entire district, kindergarten through 12th grade,” he said.

Staff education for the district’s newer teachers and consistent application of the drug-prevention curriculum is necessary, Farrell said.

“If this incident hadn’t happened, unfortunately we would have coasted without reviewing the policy,” he said.

But the incident has focused the district’s attention on what Farrell concurs is a problem.

“If you have one student who has a problem with drugs, then the school has a problem with drugs,” he said. “If you have a school system that has a problem with drugs, then you have a community that has a problem with drugs.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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