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Parents renew efforts against drunken driving

The school called the meeting in response to a weekend last month when there were three car accidents involving students from the high school. Two of the accidents happened around or after 2 a.m., two involved students who had left house parties, and in one instance a student was cited for operating under the influence, police said.

“I don’t want you to feel like you are being lectured,” principal Brian Salzer said to parents. “This is to answer the question, ‘What are we doing?’ What are the school, police and district attorney’s office doing to help kids around drinking and driving?’ ”

Parents said the information they received during the session from police officials, a former student, school officials, and a prosecutor was helpful, and many of them echoed a similar sentiment after the meeting.

“The biggest issue in Newton,” Richard Salter, the parent of a 17-year-old junior at the school, said, “is that parents don’t want to discipline their kids. They want to make their kids happy.”

Newton police have issued eight citations this year to minors for allegedly driving under the influence. They issued six last year and two in 2006, said Lieutenant Bruce Apotheker, spokesman for the Police Department. But police, parents, and students said drinking and driving is prevalent in the community.

Newton Patrol Captain Howard Mintz asked parents to inform the police of house parties, which he called “a real serious problem and a hard one to manage.” He described situations in which six officers might be dispatched to break up a house party of 50 students, with the top priority being to stop students from getting in their cars and driving off to avoid being caught.

“We don’t want to use force,” he said. “It’s hard to stop students from fleeing.”

The parents also heard from a former student and school officials about alcohol and drug prevention, education, and intervention measures. They also learned about the consequences their children could face from a prosecutor.

“When you look at your 17-, 18-year-old child, can you imagine what it would be like for that person to be in jail with a hardened criminal?” said Kerry Aleman, a prosecutor with the Middlesex district attorney’s office.

Aleman told the audience she prosecutes teenagers and young adults for the deaths of family members and friends as a result of drunken driving accidents, and she will not go easy on teens, even those without a prior record or other history of trouble. She also explained that one mistake could cost their child admission to college, or greatly reduce their chances of getting financial aid.

“She took it from the extreme, which could be easy to ignore, to relateable things like losing financial aid,” said Laura Marks, a parent with a senior and sophomore at the school.

Marks and her friend Cindy Kropp, whose twins are sophomores, said after the meeting that last month’s accidents made the issue of teenage drinking and driving more real to them, and brought about a higher sense of urgency in the community.

Salter called the meeting a “great group process.”

“It reinforces your own feelings,” he said. “It reinforces your own fears, and allows you to see them in the context of other people.”

The meeting also provided parents with helpful tips, such as laying out the punishments for various actions before they happen.

People at the meeting asked questions ranging from the rhetorical to the specific. One question card asked whether a couple’s son was correct when he said his parents are the only ones who make sure to talk to a supervising adult at his friends’ homes. The parents in the room agreed collectively to make those phone calls. They learned that Rich Catrambone, the alcohol and drug prevention counselor at the high school, sells saliva drug-test kits for $7 that detect usage within a 24-hour window.

Parents said the meeting helped reassure them about the genuineness of the people working with their children, and the programs being offered.

Newton South has three classes to empower students: a peer educators course, where they become the experts; MVP, where they learn things like antibullying strategies and how to be a self-advocate; and a leadership and diversity course. In addition, all ninth-graders go through a wellness program with their house masters and a police officer that educates them about the effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Also, Newton is the only district in the state to receive a federal “Safe Schools, Healthy Students” grant. The district intends to use the $6 million grant over four years for things such as a safe ride program and hiring two full-time alcohol and drug prevention counselors to split their time among the city’s four middle schools. A task force is being formed by the safe rides program, officials said.

The school will be e-mailing a packet to parents who indicated an interest in information about the school’s programs, offers such as social liability insurance, which could protect a family’s primary assets in lawsuits, and other helpful tools.

And on Wednesday, students are invited to come with their parents to watch a movie about drinking and driving called “Smash.”

source:  Boston Globe

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