By Denise Smith Amos
Enquirer staff writer
A private prep school that once objected to being associated with teen drug abuse in the hit movie Traffic recently mailed letters to parents telling them that students are attending parties two to three times a month where alcohol and illegal drugs are available.
Hugh Jebson, head of the Upper School at Cincinnati Country Day, warned in the letter that "this problem is not limited to our upper classes, as rumors of parties spread among the freshman and sophomore classes as often as they do among the junior and senior classes."
Jebson, who came to the Indian Hill school in December, said he wrote the letter based on what teens at the school are telling him and his staff. He wanted to inform parents of a national problem in which teens are offered alcohol and drugs at younger ages, often at the homes of friends.
He said no individual cases prompted his letter, and he knew of no students being suspended or expelled at Country Day. The vast majority of his students are making responsible choices, he said.
Still, the letter is an unusual step for a school to take in trying to engage parents in the effort to cut underage drinking and drug use, local anti-drug officials say. It's something more schools should do, said Rhonda Ramsey Molina, president of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati.
"Just like any kid can break a bone, any kid is susceptible to drugs or alcohol," she said.
"I applaud the administration of Country Day for getting the word out to parents. It's more than a lot of parents do."
Recently, the coalition reported declines in teenage drug and alcohol use in its 10-county area, which includes Greater Cincinnati and Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in Northern Kentucky. The most recent survey included responses from 64,000 local teens.
For the first time since the 1980s, teen use of all types of drugs dropped below 20 percent, the anonymous survey found. Beer consumption stood at 19 percent, below the national average of 20 percent.
Jebson said he wrote to parents of Country Day's 320 Upper School students so they'll know the school is redoubling its efforts to dissuade students from drugs or alcohol.
"It's not news that drugs and alcohol are out there," Jebson said in an interview. "We are simply concerned greatly about our kids' well-being, and we want to reach out to parents to help them help their children."
In addition to boosting drug-education programs, Country Day also has the option of searching student lockers and cars and using drug-detecting dogs if necessary, he wrote.
Several Cincinnati-area and Northern Kentucky schools also are boosting anti-drug and alcohol education.
Lakota Local Schools in Butler County uses peer counseling and refers students to stress and anger-management groups.
The schools also send out fliers warning parents that it's illegal to serve alcohol to minors, said Jill Kelechi, prevention/intervention programs coordinator.
"Sometimes, we focus on the wild, party kids" and miss others who are "self-medicating," she said.
At McAuley High School, a Catholic girls school in College Hill, parents pledge not to host parties where alcohol is present.
Students at Lloyd High School in Erlanger agree to random drug tests when they join sports or extracurricular activities, said Mike Sander, superintendent of Erlanger-Elsmere Schools.
"We want to give them another reason to say no to peer pressure," Sander said.
Drinking and drugs are a problem at every high school, said Fred Baba, a 15-year-old junior at Walnut Hills High School.
"The problem is, a lot of adults assume they're doing it to rebel," Baba said. "But they're doing it because they enjoy it. ... If you don't understand why your kid's doing it, you won't be able to stop them."
Country Day's letter reiterates school policy: If students are caught using, possessing or under the influence of drugs or alcohol at school or at a school activity, they can be suspended or dismissed.
Though Country Day has no jurisdiction over what takes place at people's homes, Jebson said he hopes the letter will encourage parents to talk about parties with children.
"Parents sometimes host these parties and/or turn a blind eye to what is happening in their house," Jebson wrote in the letter.
Several Country Day parents said they welcomed the letter.
"Kids at that age think they'll never be caught doing anything wrong. The school letter reminds them that there are ways that they can be caught," said Melanie Hynden, president of Country Day's parents association.
"It created a lot of discussion between parents and children at soccer games," said Laing Higgins, a parent of two students. "I don't think Country Day or any other school is immune to teenagers being teenagers."
Generally, the more disposable income and access to a car a teenager has, the higher their chance of using drugs or drinking, added Lt. Mike Madsen, of the Indian Hill Rangers. He said his law-enforcement agency breaks up at least 30 parties a year in which alcohol is being served to minors.
"Usually, the drugs just disappear by the time I get there," he said.
Not all parents take the problem seriously, Molina said. Some think they're being responsible when they throw graduation or prom parties and serve alcohol.
Helen Herrlinger, a Hyde Park parent of a Country Day student and two graduates, said parents should make it clear what they expect from their children.
"It's up to the parents to take care of it; I don't think it should be a school problem," she said.
"Kids are just exposed to everything today. ... I know that if my 16-year-old wanted to go out and buy marijuana, he could do so easily. You can't keep them sheltered."
In Traffic, an Oscar-winning 2000 film, one of its teen characters says she attends Cincinnati Country Day. CCD officials protested being named, saying the producers never got permission.
References to the school were removed from video and DVD versions.
Parents can be prosecuted for parties
If you throw a party where alcohol or illegal drugs is used by minors, you could be found criminally and civilly liable, area prosecutors say.