First reported 5/5/2010 2:36 p.m.

The principal of Oak Park and River Forest High School told a drug and alcohol forum last week that he needs and expects parents’ support in fighting substance abuse at the school. And an Oak Park police detective told parents to talk to other parents and stop taking the word of teenagers who may themselves have an abuse habit.

It was that kind of frank evening last week when APPLE, a parents group at the school, hosted a crowded forum on substance abuse problems in the villages. Another forum hosted by another parents group is set for next week.

At the APPLE meeting, one Oak Park parent talked about trying to steer her son away from a kid who is involved in drugs. Another parent recalled her student telling her about kids selling ecstasy, among other drugs, at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave.

These revelations were eye-opening to those attending the May 4 forum. More than 50 people packed the faculty dining hall for the event. Guest speakers included representatives of the Oak Park police department, health and youth outreach agencies and the school itself. Det. Schonella Stewart spoke on behalf of Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley, who had to cancel his appearance.

Audience members were able to ask questions, and some shared their concerns and experiences with drug activity at OPRF. One parent said her son had been hanging out with someone who smoked marijuana. She said she came home to find that person in her house although he bolted from the residence as soon as she arrived.

Stewart warned parents that such kids will try to stay at their friend’s homes if they’re having trouble where they live. That kid might tell their friend’s parents that they have permission to be there, but usually they don’t. Stewart advised parents to talks amongst themselves.

“Times have changed,” she said. “It was like a check and balance before and now we’re taking the word of a juvenile who may be in trouble, so it’s like they’re playing parents against one another.”

OPRF Principal Nate Rouse, who attended the meeting, said certain certified staff can search a student based on a suspicion that they might be carrying drugs. But that also causes a backlash from some parents, he said. Rouse insisted that the school can’t address the drug issue alone and needs parental support.

“We have to address the problem no-holds barred. There’s no grey area; either we address it or we don’t,” he said. “Times have changed and we have to do things that are drastic, even if they’re uncomfortable.”

Rouse added that prevention also involves pulling those kids aside and talking with them.

Charles Levy, community relations specialist at Chicago’s Hartgrove Hospital, talked about the importance of mentoring to kids. The hospital offers treatment for mental illness in adults, teens and children. Levy focused part of his message on the black community and cultural apprehension to psychiatric therapy. Some children are also gravitating to the “thug life” as depicted in movies and music videos, Levy noted-mediums that also glorify drug use.

“We have to look at the things they see and do. Let’s not wait until it’s a crisis; let’s deal with it now,” he said.

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Citizen Council drug forum

Also present at last Tuesday’s drug forum were members of the Citizen’s Council, an advisory group to the high school board. That group is hosting a drug prevention forum from 7 to 9 p.m. on May 19 in the school’s auditorium.

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