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Residents urged to take part in Falmouth school drug policy talks

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Residents urged to take part in Falmouth school drug policy talks

FALMOUTH — Town councilors Monday called for community involvement in the creation of a new drug and alcohol policy for Falmouth High School.

Before the council's regularly scheduled meeting, councilors participated in a focus group with School Board members and Police Chief Ed Tolan so the School Board's drug and alcohol task force could get feedback on areas of concern.

“It was really an opportunity for us to have a direct dialogue with the council,” said Chris Murry Jr., chairman of the board's policy committee.

Council concerns ranged from the potential for lawsuits to ensuring that the policy is applied evenly across the district. But the major conversation centered around roles the town and parents play.

“When kids are at school, during school hours or at a school-sanctioned activity, that is the school's time and it is the school's responsibility,” Councilor Teresa Pierce said Tuesday. “I'm interested in seeing if there is a way to actively pursue community involvement around this. It is important to know the school can't solve everything and they shouldn't be policemen over the summer. Their job is to educate kids; ours is to parent.”

Murry said Pierce's point is an important one. He said he task force is looking at how the school can enforce this policy when its primary focus should be when students are on school grounds.

Another issue that has been debated by the task force and is a point of concern for councilors is the concept of students being “knowingly present” at a gathering where drugs or alcohol are involved. Murry said the task force is not committed to the concept, but it is being discussed.

“Historically for us it has been a concern and it's not fair to penalize kids for making the appropriate choice and (it) puts a significant amount of administrative burden to find out what happened ... based on hearsay,” he said. “It's a fair thing to debate, even if the message is that we stay away from it."

Councilor Chris Orestis said that while he agrees with getting the community involved in the policy and encouraging health and wellness as well as smart decision making, he does not agree with the “knowingly present” aspect.

“It becomes very hard to manage,” he said. “There's too much ambiguity, too much room for error and it would open up too many situations that could open up lawsuits."

The next step for the task force is to boost community involvement through two focus groups next week.

In the first focus group on Dec. 17, the task force is inviting parents of current Falmouth High School students to come to the high school library at 6 p.m. to give their input. The second focus group is for any other concerned community members; that meeting will take place on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. in the library.

Murry said the focus groups are crucial to molding the new policy.

“Community engagement at the parent and community member focus groups is critical,” he said. “Policy will be crafted based on the feedback being presented and engaged. Being there and being a part of the process, giving us feedback is critical so this policy is reflective of Falmouth as a community, not just seven people sitting on a board.”

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.