First reported 4/6/2010 1:19 p.m.

Disturbed by increased drug activity at Oak Park and River Forest High School, the Citizen’s Council, a community advisory group to OPRF, is planning to host an awareness forum this spring concerning the problem.

Recently released discipline data for fall 2009 showed an increase in drug-related offenses over the previous year’s first semester. In addition, the school’s nine expulsions from first semester included students kicked out for serious drug offenses. School officials also acknowledged that there is drug activity going on at OPRF that has slipped through the discipline system and thus is not reflected in the data.

Mimi Skapek, a member of the Citizen’s Council, said the forum will include members of the high school and Oak Park and River Forest communities. Skapek is part of a sub-committee of the council that’s putting the forum together.

“Our purpose in planning this forum is to facilitate the awareness of the substance abuse issue beyond our 40-member group,” she said, speaking to the District 200 Board of Education at its March 25 meeting.

Skapek said the forum will be open to the community and is being planned for before the start of summer vacation. The hope, she added, is that the forum will spur anti-drug initiatives that could be implemented this fall.

“Ideally we would want this to result in a collaborative effort between the school and community to define an action plan or a campaign against substance abuse,” Skapek said.

Parents and community groups such as APPLE, the Student Council and the Huskie Boosters would also be invited to participate, she said.

The council discussed the drug issue with administrators and board members at the council’s February and March meetings. Skapek noted several points that arose from those discussions concerning drug activity at OPRF.

Alcohol and drugs are prevalent among students with marijuana as the drug of choice. The Oak Park and River Forest communities are also identified as central locations for drug dealing, which has impacted OPRF students. Among students, the high school is known as an easy place to get and use drugs. Skapek noted concerns about drug activity inside and outside the school.

Board members expressed support for the forum and the council’s effort to combat drugs.

“I can tell you from experience that it affects the learning ability of our students,” said Jacques Conway, a school board member and retired Oak Park police officer who worked at the OPRF as a school resource officer. “And I can tell you also that it’s a family secret. Our parents are embarrassed, ashamed and feel defeated because the child that they saw in kindergarten and first grade now has no control.”

Conway said those parents need to know that they’re not alone and that they have support from the school and community. He also noted that the students know who is selling and using drugs at the school.

“For me, that says it’s an epidemic,” Conway said.

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