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Parents required to attend meeting

Swampscott sets drug-policy talk

By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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High school students in Swampscott could soon be penalized if their parents fail to attend a meeting about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.

Teenagers whose parents are no-shows at Monday night’s gathering will not be allowed to participate in sports or extracurricular activities, the district said.

School administrators said they know the unorthodox approach might be off-putting to some — at least a handful of parents have already criticized it — but they insist the meeting is meant to be collaborative, not punitive.

“We can’t do this alone as a school district,’’ said Superintendent Lynne Celli, adding that it is important to present a unified front against underage drinking. “It sends a message when we’re all speaking the same language.’’

Celli said parents with “a compelling reason’’ for not attending, such as work or sickness, can schedule a separate meeting with administrators. But she stressed that school officials “want everyone sitting there.’’

Attendance will be taken at the meeting. The event is meant to augment the district’s new substance abuse policy, which aims to educate teens and monitor student behavior. It also establishes consequences for all students caught drinking or using drugs.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has dictated student athletes could be disciplined if busted on weekends or after school. But the policy, which the district followed, was silent when it came to other students.

“Kids who were athletes got punishments and kids who weren’t got nothing, and that wasn’t fair,’’ said Swampscott High School’s principal, Layne Millington.

A series of worrisome events prompted the rule change, Millington said. The principal said he responded to five serious incidents involving alcohol during the summer before school began. The situation got worse as the fall semester went on, including a drinking incident on a field trip and another in which a student almost died, he said.

Millington and Celli said those events, coupled with an alarming survey, suggested something drastic needed to happen. According to Millington, preliminary results of the state’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 65 percent of the school’s 770 students said they had used alcohol, and more than 50 percent said they’d done so within 30 days of taking the poll.

“It was just really looking like things were getting set up for a tragedy,’’ Millington said.

This fall, the school also used drug-sniffing dogs to search classrooms, lockers, and the parking lot. Nothing was found, administrators said.

Roger Talkov, whose sophomore daughter is a varsity basketball player, applauds the district for scheduling the meeting.

“I think they think it’s important enough to have this mandatory meeting, and so I think it’s important enough be there,’’ he said. “I think every town should do it.’’

Lianne Stati, mother of a Swampscott sophomore, had a similar take.

“I feel there needs to be cooperation between the parents and the schools,’’ she said.

Millington said he has received about five complaints from angry parents, and conservative talk-radio host Michael Graham blasted the school system on his website, saying taxpaying parents should not be forced to attend anything.

Millington said he understand these concerns but hopes the intent isn’t overshadowed by the controversy.

“There’s also an important message that I hope doesn’t get lost,’’ he said.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com.