Pubdate: Thu, 15 Apr 2004
Source: Morning Call (PA)
Copyright: 2004 The Morning Call Inc.
Author:  Randy Kraft


At Initial Meeting, They Hear About Students' Destructive Behaviors.

The challenge of literally saving lives of children in the East Penn School 
District drew hundreds of people to Emmaus High School Wednesday night.

The district's initial Take Back Our Children program was an emotional and 
unusually candid exchange about drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, bullying, 
teen pregnancy and other self-destructive behaviors at all grade levels.

Dozens of parents, students, teachers, social workers and police officers 
spoke about the scope of the problems and ways they might be tackled during 
most of the meeting, which lasted more than three hours and was attended by 
about 370 people.

There seemed to be a consensus that both parents and school staffs must put 
more emphasis on teaching children right from wrong.

School board President Jeff DeHaan, who initiated the program, set the tone 
for the meeting when he told parents: ''We have teens, preteens and 
children making destructive decisions. We have bullies. We have children 
spreading sexual diseases. We have drugs in our schools.

''Students are bringing alcohol to school in water bottles,'' said DeHaan. 
''They are bringing pot in candy boxes. They are lacing pacifiers with hard 
drugs. They are having sleep-over parties with alcohol.''

DeHaan said he wanted to start random drug testing in schools in the fall 
of 2002. He was told the district should not do such testing because social 
service agencies and the courts would not be able to handle the number of 
students who would be identified as drug users and would not be able to 
give them the services they would need.

''In the past two years, current and former East Penn students have died, 
directly or indirectly, because of destructive decisions,'' said DeHaan, 
''and many more have been in and out of rehab. Something had to be done.''

Rene Lento, a consultant with the Lehigh Valley Drug & Alcohol Unit, drew 
some gasps when she said average first use of marijuana is at age 12. She 
said some children in the district are using heroin, cocaine and other 
''big-time drugs'' from middle school on.

She told parents: ''You are the ones who need to know most of all what is 
out there threatening your children's lives and their futures when it comes 
to alcohol and drugs.''

She also said: ''You'd be surprised how many parents use drugs with their 
children, particularly alcohol and marijuana, in your community.''

Several parents said children know who the drug users and drug dealers are 
in schools, but the district lacks a way for them to get that information 
to administrators who should do something about it.

Several said schools need more hall monitors, including police. Some said 
there are fights in the high school every other day. Others said school 
buses need adults on board to maintain discipline.

''Our goal is to put a stake in the ground and say we're going to take back 
our children,'' said Alrita Morgan, district superintendent. She said she 
hopes parents will remain active in helping the district determine exactly 
how to reach that goal.

A couple of parents were concerned the district will just pay lip service 
to all the problems. Everyone attending was asked to sign a paper and 
continue participating in what school officials hope will become a Take 
Back Our Children task force. The next meeting will be May 18.

Several people recommended students should be active participants in the 

Fred Shipman, an expert on destructive teen behaviors, commended East Penn 
for being upfront about its problems. He said other districts ''bury their 
heads in the sand.''

He said East Penn is sending a powerful message to its young people that it 
cares enough to help them.
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