Task force to assess substance use | AspenTimes.com

Task force to assess substance use

John Colson

At the urging of a group of parents, the Aspen School District is setting up a Drug and Alcohol Use Task Force to gauge what some parents feel is a growing, underaddressed problem in the local schools.And while Superintendent Diana Sirko does not expect the task force will recommend drastic policy changes, she said the local schools could be advised to institute such measures as drug testing and searches that involve the use of dogs.A recent survey by the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention showed what Aspen school officials felt was relatively low alcohol and drug use among local high schoolers, Sirko said.The survey, Sirko said, “showed that the perception of the issue is really greater than the reality,” and the school district has not felt it was ignoring a major problem.But a dozen or so parents who approached her over the summer about forming the task force, she said, “felt the school may not be aware of the extent that it occurs out in the community.”She also said the “parents seem to feel that the people in the community look the other way” regarding teenagers using alcohol and drugs. She said some parents will provide a venue for kids to party as a way of keeping them “safe” and off the roads.And, she said, those parents feel “[the schools] need to be more aggressive in addressing it.”Having raised three children of her own who are now grown, Sirko noted that she had the same kind of fears when her kids were young.”I was more concerned about them getting home safely” than about whether they “had a beer” during an evening out.”That’s a compromise we sometimes make as parents,” she said. “I think alcohol is as great a problem for us as drugs.”Sirko said no one has been busted recently for using or selling drugs, or for alcohol use or possession, in the schools.But she said some of the parents she’s been talking with have heard from local kids, including some who have recently come out of rehabilitation programs, that some parents seem to have no problem with drug and alcohol use by teenagers. Some, Sirko said, take the position that “if they do it at home, it’s OK.””I think alcohol is as great a problem for us as drugs,” she said. “I guess what the task force wants to look at is, is there a way of sending a message that it isn’t a rite of passage for kids to drink.”Sirko stressed that having student representatives on the task force is “a huge part of this.”To get students to serve on the task force, she said, signs will solicit participation. Sirko is hoping to attract a broad spectrum of students with different personalities and philosophies.”It’s better to err on the side of caution,” Sirko said. “Are our kids in need of more support than we are providing?”The task force’s first organizational meeting will be Sept. 20 at the public schools campus.Sirko said she expects there will be about 18 to 20 members on the task force, including representatives from the board of education, the district administration, teachers, staffers, parents, students and other community leaders. Although some parents already have signed up, Sirko said she is still seeking members and welcomes applications. Those interested should call the district office at 925-3760, ext. 4007.The task force is expected to make recommendations to the school board by January.Those recommendations, she said, could include such things as drug testing for athletes and the use of dogs in searches, depending on what facts are turned up during the group’s investigation.”I honestly don’t know how I feel about it,” she said of those prospects, explaining that random searches “might be a way of determining how extensive the issue is” and that drug testing of athletes or others might be the kind of support that would most effectively keep kids off drugs.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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