O'Shea responds to student's allegations of drug use at Minnechaug
|June 25, 2012|
By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM For the second time this year, Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea wrote a letter to the public in response to a local media report that he felt offered incomplete or inaccurate information.
O'Shea released a letter to parents and guardians of students in the district to clarify allegations lodged against Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS) by a member of the junior class regarding the lack of drug enforcement at the school that were part of a recent article in The Republican.
O'Shea stated that the district takes a proactive approach to drug and alcohol abuse and that the administration is aware that drug use is an ongoing area of concern at MRHS.
"Minnechaug Regional High School is a great small-town high school, but there is simply no way to ignore the realities of [the] substance [abuse] issue, nor would we wish to. We have been and will remain willing to confront the issue with our eyes wide open," he said. "We take no comfort from the fact that students at Minnechaug Regional High School use alcohol and marijuana at rates lower than the state averages. We acknowledge that substance use among teens is a major public health issue that impacts individuals, families, schools and communities including our own."
O'Shea asserted that the article focused solely on "search and seizure" and did not reflect the totality of HWRSD's efforts to keep drugs out of its schools.
"As parents of HWRSD children, you should know that our prevention and intervention efforts extend far beyond the subject of the article," he said. "We employ a comprehensive approach to substance abuse prevention and intervention."
O'Shea explained that the district's code of conduct prohibits the use or possession of drugs at school and that the district's health curriculum includes anti-drug components in grades three through 12 in order to help students "understand the risks associated with drug and alcohol use and teaches students healthy decision making, problem solving and communication skills."
While the source stated in The Republican's article that students are aware of two random drug sweeps that happen each year and can see police cars on campus that tip them off prior to the searches, O'Shea said that the drug searches are done three times a year and are random.
"Contrary to what was reported, when a search is conducted, MRHS is called into lockdown before the police canine units arrive on campus students are not able to see the cars on campus before coming to school," he said.
O'Shea added that the district also has very consistent disciplinary practices, but more importantly, have other methods in place in order to help students who may have an issue with drugs or alcohol.
"Intervention work is associated with clear and consistent disciplinary practices based on Massachusetts General Law and a very active referral process that directs students with substance abuse issues to our Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug counselors at the middle and high schools," he said. "We make a concerted effort to collect and analyze data to guide these prevention and intervention activities. Primarily, this is done through the administration of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to students in grades seven through 12. These surveys highlight areas of concern that guide our on-going efforts and have shown that students' perception of drug use among their peers exceeds actual use.
"Finally, we value the work of our school resource officers. These police officers, employed at the middle and high school levels, provide another valuable asset in our efforts to keep children safe. They help us ensure that all reports are investigated and acted upon in accordance with state and local statutes," he continued.
O'Shea also called for continued help from parents and staff in reporting information regarding any drug related issues.
More information about substance abuse by teenagers can be found under the Safe Schools/Healthy Students tab on the HWRSD website, www.hwrsd.org.