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School Bd Takes Up Issue Of Drug Abuse



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School Bd Takes Up Issue Of Drug Abuse

By Larissa Lytwyn

Reflecting the local resurgence of interest in drug awareness and prevention, the school board addressed the problem of substance abuse in Newtown schools at its September 2 meeting.

Health Coordinator Judith Blanchard discussed the findings of the Governor’s Prevention Initiative for Youth Student Survey 2002, a study in which 902 Newtown students grades 9–12 participated.

The number of teens using drugs, she said, has been relatively stable. “It’s the types of drugs that are being used that is changing,” she said.

Heroin use, she said, is on the rise, much as it was during the early 1990s. “The types of drugs used are based on what’s cheap and what’s available,” Ms Blanchard said. “And heroin, right now, is both.”

In addition, she said, girls are using cigarettes, inhalants, and other substances with more frequency than boys.

Newtown Youth Services runs various programs addressing substance abuse issues, including Newtown Organization to Stop Underage Drinking Soon (NO SUDS) and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). There is also a weekly Hope and Support Group for families struggling with a loved one’s substance abuse and the Parent Connection, an awareness and prevention group specifically geared toward parental involvement.

A town ordinance regarding alcohol use by minors will be the subject of a public hearing September 17, according to Legislative Council member Joseph Borst. The ordinance states, in part, “that no person under the age of 21 shall be in possession or in control of any container of alcoholic liquor, whether open, unopened or closed, within Newtown except when accompanied by or in the presence of his or her parent or guardian or spouse who has attained the age of 21 years.”

The restriction applies to both public and private property.

The ordinance continues, “No person shall host an event which allows the consumption or dispensing of alcoholic liquor to or by a minor or minors unless said minor…is accompanied by or in the presence of his or her parent, guardian or spouse…”

The level of parental involvement, Ms Blanchard said, could be a key indicator of whether or not their children may be vulnerable to substance abuse. Children whose parents know where they are, she continued, may lower their susceptibility to illicit drug use.

Superintendent of Schools Evan Pitkoff emphasized the importance of integrating the numerous drug awareness and prevention programs around town. “When Parent Connection was first established in the early 1990s we had a member that served on various [substance abuse] committees,” said Ms Blanchard. “We can never have too many groups working on this.”

Donna DeLuca, former principal of St Rose, will be attending the September 9 school board meeting to discuss Parent Connection’s goals and mission statement.

School Start Times Committee Planned

While adjusting its expenditures to fit the budget that was trimmed to win public approval in June, the Board ultimately voted to adopt a money-saving three-tier system, setting middle and high school start times to 7:30 am. In the weeks prior, several board members and parents expressed passionate support for later start times for adolescent-aged students, citing an increasing volume of medical research as evidence for their cause.

Wendy Leon-Gambetta, mother of children in Newtown High School, Newtown Middle School, and Head O’ Meadow, as well as Board secretary Margaret Hull were particularly adamant in their support of the change.

The issue, Ms Hull said, is one that has been around a while.

“My desire to have a committee research the [school start time] issue isn’t new,” she said.

During the September 2 meeting, Dr Pitkoff distributed a list indicating the kind of individuals he wanted to head the School Start Times Committee, a group designed to evaluate the research regarding teen sleep patterns and sleep deprivation.

He said he would soon be attending a meeting to discuss the progress of Wilton’s school system, which recently established later start times for its high school students.

Last year’s Climate Control Committee, he said, was incredibly successful. The committee broke the many issues surrounding the maintenance of various school buildings into a prioritized series of recommendations.

“I would like to apply the same model to the School Start Times Committee,” he said. He also emphasized the importance of the upcoming committee’s members to represent each of the district’s schools. 

Ms Hull suggested a social worker be a part of the committee to examine the social trends relating to the after-school behavior of middle and high school-aged students, dismissed earlier in the afternoon at 1:52 pm. Some research suggests that loitering and other illicit activities occur more frequently during unsupervised afternoons.

She also distributed excerpts from two studies, “The Prickly Politics of School Starting Times,” by Kyla Wahlstrom, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, and “The Impact of School Starting Time on Family Life,” by school psychologist Dr Gordon Wrobel.

The board also discussed Newtown High School’s 2005 accreditation process, as well as a proposal for an accelerated fifth grade math program, curriculum development framework, textbook adoption, discovery program entrance test updates, an update on technology education curriculum at Newtown Middle School, and the discussion of district goals.

The board will vote on the issues during its next meeting at 7:30 September 9.

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