Underage, under scrutiny

Recent incidents involving underage drinking, including two resulting in emergency room visits, have parents wondering what's going on with Ashland teens.

Two weeks ago, a girl was found unconscious outside a dance sponsored by a high school student at the Inner Child Caf&

233;, ending the dance early and leading to suspicions of sexual assault. Last Friday night, police cited three minors for possession of alcohol within 20 minutes, one of whom was transported to the hospital after being found partially conscious. A second was too intoxicated to care for herself and was released to her mother, police said.

Later that night, a teenage boy who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol assaulted a security guard at the Ashland High School football game, police said. He pushed through the crowd and onto the field during play as he fled from the guard.

"A lot of parents are saying, 'What is going on? What kind of start to the year is this?' especially those of us with new high schoolers," said Chris Hearn, whose 12-year-old son was knocked over by the fleeing boy at the football game. His daughter is a freshman this year.

"Underage drinking and wild behavior seems to set the flavor for the school," he said.

In a survey of 142 Ashland high school juniors done by the Oregon Department of Human Services last spring, 47.5 percent said they had drunk alcohol in the past 30 days. Nearly 39 percent said they binge drink, which is defined as five or more drinks in two hours. The numbers are comparable to statistics for all Oregon high school students.

"Some people are at the point where they don't want to do anything without alcohol," said a 16-year-old junior who wanted to remain anonymous. "They think they have to drink to get attention and fit in. Personally, I think it's a really bad choice."

Both she and her friend, a 15-year-old sophomore, said their parents allow them to drink, and they feel comfortable telling their parents when they choose to do so.

The younger girl said she never drinks more than one or two drinks, but many of her friends regularly drink seven or eight shots in one night.

"I don't ever get to the point where I can't make good choices for myself," she said.

Because not all teenagers make good choices with alcohol, police said they are looking out for problems.

"Obviously with schools starting here, there's a lot of drinking going on," said Sgt. Malcus Williams. "As a community and a police department, we've got to try and stay on top of it and make sure that these people are safe."

Ashland police have written 93 reports involving minors in possession of alcohol so far in 2007. Police wrote 160 reports in 2006 and 125 in 2005. The number of citations is probably higher, police said, because several minors could be included in one report.

The school district also dispatches police whenever a student is caught with alcohol or other substances. Last school year, 23 students were cited for possession of alcohol at school or school-sponsored events. Most violations occur at dances, AHS Dean Glenna Stiles said.

In the wake of recent high-profile incidents involving AHS students, Stiles has been working with parents, students and teachers to figure out what else can be done.

"I've been dean for four years, and Friday night was the worst football game that I've ever experienced as far as student's behavior," Stiles said.

Although the event at the Inner Child Caf&

233; was not school sponsored, Stiles said she still feels responsible.

"We are upset too. It's not like we're turning a blind eye and pretending it didn't happen," Stiles said. "It's kind of heartbreaking because I love our students, and I think they are wonderful kids, even the ones that make mistakes."

The high school drug and alcohol policy focuses on rehabilitation, Stiles said, which helps separate the kids who have addiction problems from those that have what Stiles calls "a decision-making problem." Of the 23 students caught with alcohol last year, only two were repeat offenders.

In addition to ramped up security at upcoming football games, Stiles said the school is searching for other ways to address the problem. One health teacher sent home an assignment last week asking students what they would do if a friend drank too much.

"It's one thing that you drink until you pass out," Stiles said. "It's another thing that you leave your friend lying there to die," she said, referring to recent incidents.

But when it comes to how to prevent further problems, answers are hard to come by.

"Of course I want them to drink less and be responsible," Stiles said. "It's a fine line of how to do that and how much is it really the school's place. I feel like it is, and that's what I do, but I know that it's a fine line. There are people that would like us to be more involved with kids' lives and people that would like us to be less involved. We like to trust our kids, and we want them to do the right thing because it's the right thing, not because they're going to get in trouble if they don't."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .

Share This Story