OPRF seeks range of views on substance abuse

High school, for the first time, directly hosts forum on alcohol, drug issues


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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

As the Oak Park and River Forest High School administration pursues potential changes to school policies designed to combat drug and alcohol abuse issues, the high school hosted a discussion Feb. 15, asking parents and other community members to weigh in on the options.

Dozens of people crowded into the school cafeteria to discuss the pros and cons of implementing new policies to quell substance abuse, a problem studies have shown is more common at OPRF than at other area schools. The topics included modifying the school's open campus policy, hiring a permanent student assistant program (SAP) coordinator, instituting mandatory random drug testing, and allowing police dogs to perform drug searches within the school.

Inviting the public to express their opinions, explained Principal Nathaniel Rouse, is nothing new for the high school.

"How we got to this point tonight is based on a history of engaging the community on topics of drugs and alcohol," he said.

Organizers of the event emphasized a desire to surface wide ranging views on the proposals. To this point the discussion has been driven by a Citizens Council parent committee, and most participants in various forums have been sympathetic to proposed interventions.

"This is really a problem," said Rouse, of substance abuse among students. Based on a survey taken by OPRF students in May of last year, significant numbers of kids reported alcohol and marijuana abuse, drinking and using drugs on school property, and attending classes under the influence.

"I think when you hear these numbers you do realize that we do have a serious issue." Rouse said.

The four topics discussed last week targeted school policies that some felt are feeble in thwarting substance abuse. After brief presentations for each topic, attendees split into smaller groups to discuss each topic individually. The closed campus one prompted a great deal of conversation with positions on either side of the argument. Currently the campus is closed only for freshmen.

"What's the benefit to an open campus? Education-wise, what's the benefit?" asked Vicky Rohner.

Another participant said that there is no benefit to such a policy.

"I think it's a distraction," she said, while another person pointed out: "I think it's a big interruption in your day."

Others, however, disagreed.

"I think it should stay open," said one parent. "It's not really going to help any of the issues that we're talking about [to close the campus]."

In response to one parent's story about her daughter's classmate who's known to smoke pot before attending class, another parent argued: "This student needs much more help than a closed campus is going to get him."

The administration also suggested discussing potential modifications to the program. For instance, allowing only upperclassmen to take advantage of an open campus, or making the policy a privilege earned by good grades and performance.

But one parent insisted that the school already has difficulty keeping track of which students take advantage of an open campus. "The enforcement is the issue right now," she said. "All freshmen go off campus. I think it should be closed because I do think that the kids leave campus and smoke pot and drink."

One woman, who was in favor of an open campus policy that allowed only qualified students the privilege of leaving school, suggested improving enforcement. She recommended limiting the entry and exit points in the building to a single door. Also: requiring students to wear color-coded identification so staff and administrators can easily distinguish between students who are allowed to leave and those who aren't.

Others rejected outright the idea of keeping an open campus system. "The kids who want to do well in school are distracted by this," one woman said.

Reader Comments

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Samuel Broseker from Del Rio  

Posted: June 13th, 2011 11:15 AM

Everyone is focusing on enforcement. This will have some effect buy you are all missing the roots. Why does the kid use in the first place? Bad parenting, inability to deal with problems. Never before in society has their been such a gap between the parent and child. Parents are too busy to pay attention to their kids. Get up in their business. Show you care. Go to games, eat together. Turn off the tv. Talk. Be involved.

parent of 2 Huskies from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 1:15 PM

Self-Surveys results are typically lower than than what actually is. It makes no sense that our students all co-conspired to "fix" the numbers. The survey #s are real, I'm sorry to say. Now the HS needs to respond to being part of the solution. Clearly, drug accessibility is easy at OPRF. If we want parents and kids to do their part - reduce demand; then the police and the HS need to work on reducing accessibility. Together, this approach is bound to lower those uncomfortable statistics.

OPRF Parent  

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 6:57 PM

Do you realize that many of the drug dealers are students in the school -- and surprisingly quite a few are not the students most of you believe don't live in OP or RF. If the adm. wants to deal with these issues, talk to the kids --they know who the drug dealers are and they are right there in the building. And let's not brand this a poor, Section 8 problem. I know way too many people who have loads of money who have NO CLUE what their children are doing-or are too drunk themselves to notice

RF Parent from River Forest  

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 6:39 PM

Why make OPRF the target of drug dealers by allowing an open campus? If the campus is open, it seems that the drug dealers will come during the lunch periods. If the campus is closed, then they will not have a reason. Don't give them the reason to come to OPRF. Don't make it easy for them to target our children.

Not everyone has a parent who cares. from OP-RF  

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 3:12 PM

Thank you to the poster b4 me. I have a friend who investigates kids who attend OPRF and don't reside in OP or RF. There are quite a few. "Homeless" kids are required to be taken in. Do you think those overwhelmed parents are raising their kids correctly? Are they watchful? Who knows? And some well-off parents aren't watching their kids. The school suffers when too many parents are not involved and don't care. Bc of them, we'll need deterrents to keep all kids safe & focused on school.

OP Resident  

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 7:51 AM

Could 700 units of Section 8 housing with fatherless children cause lack of adult input? Answer: Yes Do the school officials and parents want student drug arrests? Answer: No Is it a pain in the a** for OP Police to arrest students? Are the Police asked to look the other way? As a society, we just moan. We really do not want change. Dogs and arrests would rid the school of drugs in under a month.

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 5:46 AM

@02 OPRF is Correct!! There simply is NO substitution for VERY good parenting. This means that you are not going to be their favorite friend - which often times parents seem to want to put themselves. It is tough out there and do not try and think of yourself in their shoes. Wake up - and start asking questions, daily. Also, ground them if they are not reacting. Tough Love. Help them make the RIGHT choices. After all, they will find a way if you give them direction, guidance and a vision.

02 OPRF Grad from Chicago  

Posted: February 21st, 2011 7:18 PM

Nearly everyone on this forum stated valid suggestions- but they seem to neglect the one major issue at hand. PARENTS NEED TO RAISE THEIR KIDS CORRECTLY. The school is there to provide an education, not an upbringing. Tell your kids to act right and to stop talking to the so-called dealers that get into the school, and the morons smoking and drinking in the park. They DO have a choice in the matter, last time I checked. Behavior management starts at home, plain and simple.


Posted: February 21st, 2011 11:04 AM

WONDERFUL IDEA!! Students covering the Achievement GAP and the DRUG and Drinking Issue. More you get the Students involved in the discussion and the solution, this will make things work. http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/11-30-2010/Now_showing:_OPRF's_Newscene_leaps_to_VOP

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: February 21st, 2011 10:43 AM

@OP Resident is CORRECT! Parents are a BIG influence on kids actions, and they need to watch what they do and say in front of kids. Drugs are a big problem in today's society. HS is NO different and impacted. Congratulate for the issue to get to this point - but it needs FAR more discussion, debate and information provided by OPRF. It feels that some tightening of open campus is needed - but still too early. Keep talking and do not rush to making decisions that could make things worse

OP Resident  

Posted: February 20th, 2011 11:17 AM

I would never say there isn't a problem at OPRF, just like there is a problem at most high schools. My concern is that we are jumping to quick "fixes" rather than dealing with issues. Parents often drink upstairs with their friends while their teenagers are downstairs. Are the kids being checked on? We all know in some cases, no, they are not. As far as the drug problem, what preventative measures are in place at OPRF and again why would a student be allowed to leave the building at 9 a.m.?

Interested Parent  

Posted: February 20th, 2011 10:46 AM

While the survey numbers might be skewed due to students self-reporting fake behaviors, there is still a problem with alcohol and drug use among secondary students in Oak Park. Is it as great as the survey says? Maybe not. But the increasing numbers of students being caught with drug-related things is on the rise, even from grade 6 and up. Forget the survey numbers. There is a problem that must be addressed.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 20th, 2011 10:06 AM

In the immortal words of Family Feud..."survey says...!"

also questioning survey  

Posted: February 20th, 2011 7:49 AM

When I heard about the kids goofing on the survey, I asked about the controls put into it to correct for this. The students told me that the "controls" were fake nicknames for drugs that didn't exist. Take this for what it's worth, but I am surprised I haven't heard anyone from the adult population questioning this, just knee-jerk reactions.

OP Resident  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 1:10 PM

As far as the survey, I don't know how much it was altered but I am relatively sure it was mostly kids saying they used drugs when they don't. (And I won't try to figure out a 15 or 16 year old mind to see why that's funny.) I would like to know though if the survey asked about parental use of alcohol and drugs and if we have addressed parents allowing one or both in the home.

OP Resident  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 1:08 PM

River Forest, this is my point - closing the campus is not an effective means to resolve drug use. Kids are using IN the school. I am not here to bash the security but it is painfully obvious that there are issues at the school with control. If students are entering without their IDs and are leaving at 9 a.m, who is responsible for allowing that to happen?? We either need BETTER or MORE security. Parents can't get into that building - how are kids leaving so easily???


Posted: February 19th, 2011 12:34 PM

Achievement GAP --- Mr. Lee and all OPRF Board Members Please READ. The GAP can be greatly reduced - how, it must make the under performing Students FIT in. Why is the school and District 97 not examining how a Chicago School is having LOTS of success http://black-history.blackvoices.com/2011/02/18/urban-prep-academy-gets-100-black-male-college-attendance-ag/?icid=maing|main5|dl2|sec1_lnk3|45211

Are OPRF kids lying? from RF  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 12:33 PM

If you question our survey, then you need to question all of them across the US. So did kids over-report their use or under-report? If they over-reported, maybe it's cool to use. Researchers have said these report are as accurate as any other way to test. So, we are still at DOUBLE the use! 41% of our 12th graders using pot; nat'l avg is 19%. 10th grade use is 28%, so the longer you are in the school, the more you gain acceptance or get exposure to pot and the more likely you are to use.

Talk to a few high schoolers. from River Forest  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 12:04 PM

NO one wants to criminalize students; listen to J.Dennis, but who wants NON-student dealers walking into school? Why can kids enter without WEARING VISIBLE IDs? Why can kids leave at 9am? With twice the nat'l avg of pot use, we need CHANGE. Let's get better security, more prevention, drug counselors or whatever works. A friend declined a 6 figure job bc he couldn't give up pot & knew he'd be tested b4 he started. Lots of companies test in the real world; let's set them up now to be successful.

OP Resident  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 7:31 AM

"They are really kids that need help, not criminals we are trying to catch." Best line of the video. I don't know you but I am glad you get the point! (about 7:26 into the video)

OP Resident  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 7:25 AM

I also heard the same thing from many students that most of the kids did not answer the survey honestly. I agree with the previous poster -- this is typical Oak Park that will host meetings and have lots of chats. Close the campus, bring on the dogs, and the parents can feel good that they went to a meeting or chat or two. In the meantime, the real issue is totally ignored.

also questioning survey  

Posted: February 19th, 2011 5:38 AM

I heard the same thing, from a student who was working on the student newspaper at the time, that the survey was easy to fake, and that many were having fun goofing around with it. I am kind of amazed at the huge kerfuffle this has stirred up, and I think it would be typical of Oak Park to get riled up about information that wasn't accurate in the first place. FTR, I am in favor of an open campus--It's school, not prison.

Chris Goode from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 9:20 PM

Leaving school (open campus) should be a privilege, not a right, and should go to students from 11th and 12th with good grades and fewer discipline problems, and so might be an incentive to perform and behave better in & out of school. Monitor coming and going more carefully to insure that the other students are not leaving. Drug dogs on campus are ok but kids should not be drug tested without parental presence and permission. Hanging out and smoking next to residences should not be allowed.

Taxpayer (no children) from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 6:49 PM

Mari has a good point - I wondered the same thing simply because I myself will answer questionnaires incorrectly for example earning more that $250,000 or being 6' tall. Cheap thrills.

OPRF HS Neighborhood Resident from Oak PArk  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 6:39 PM

School day drug use witnessed/smelled regularly around Ridgeland Common while dog walking. fyi

Mari Wagner from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 2:09 PM

Does the school not realize that alot of the kids did not honestly answer the survey, many have told me that they made the results worse thatn what they are actually do, they are basing their plan on information that is not accurate

Pat Hahn from River Forest  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 12:30 PM

I have attended many of these forums and found the information provided to be a real eye-opener. How can the school get these facts to ALL of the OPRF parents so that they can make informed opinions on how to move forward?

Parent and Former OPRFHS student  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 12:02 AM

Who are the adults here? Since when do students have to leave campus to destress? Come on, isn't that priviledge something to look forward to when they go to college; coming and going as their schedule permits . . . This is high school, if a student has that much stress then maybe they are doing too much to begin with. We have a substance abuse problem in our school and whether it involves all or some, the measures put into place will effect all ...... for the better.

OPRF Parent from River Forest  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 12:58 PM

I've only attended one parent meeting, but I've heard drug DEALERS are in the building,and kids are leaving the building at times other than lunch. Why? Sounds like security needs to be improved and current rules enforced. Then I would agree with Open Campus as a privilege - seniors only. And if dogs and drug testing are as big of a deterrent (26% drop in usage) as I've heard, I'm all for it. We have a serious problem at OPRF that calls for serious action. Thank you to all working on this issue.

OP Parent (1st one)  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 9:46 PM

than most high schools and certainly more than my high school did. Ask the experts -- we are pushing our teenagers to work harder, to grow up faster, and yet with something they enjoy, hold on -- pull back. It makes no sense to not allow this small bit of respite. The campus should not be closed for the pretend reason that this will help our students in trouble.

OPRFHS parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 9:44 PM

Two things I heard at the meeting were especially troublesome for me: 1) the principal linking good grades and attendance to allowing students to earn the right to go off campus. Really? What happens when that thought gets connected to the achievement gap discussion?and 2) OPRFHS neighbors reporting DAILY drug action, and (so I heard) solicitation within blocks of the school.

OP Parent (1st one to post)  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 9:44 PM

So you are assuming that staying in an overcrowded cafeteria will prevent all kids from drinking, using drugs, or having sex. And when is lunch considered leisure? I trust my child as well and am relatively sure good decisions will be made. Not a perfect child but a responsible one. If I have to put my child in a bubble to make sure that he/she doesn't make any poor decision, then I think that child is in for a rude awakening as an adult. Whether you will admit it or not, OPRF demands more

OP Parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 8:49 PM

Research demonstrates that unsupervised "leisure" time is a recipe for disaster when looking at adolescents. I trust my child, but from a developmental perspective, the adolescent brain seeks high risk situations and behaviors (don't we all remember those years?) In the pamphlets available for parents at the forum- there were pages devoted to monitoring our teens and the importance of supervision. Close the campus.

OP Parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 8:40 PM

The permissive parenting of many Oak Parkers who believe their children need a break from the "rigors" of high school will be in for a shock when their students can't manage the rigors of real life. Teach them to be entitled now and your setting them up for failure in the future.

OP Parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 6:44 PM

Also, If you really think that closing the campus will help the drug and alcohol situation, I think you are extremely mistaken.

OP Parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 6:44 PM

I don't know about your kid but my kid doesn't have that much leisure time. Between homework, extracurricular activities and other commitments, there isn't much leisure time. Yes I firmly believe the students deserve a break from the school building and should be allowed to leave the campus at lunchtime. Why do people get lunch breaks from their jobs -- to get away from it. OPRF is a rigorous, demanding school and we are pushing our kids pretty hard. A break in the middle of the day is fair.

anonymous former OPRFHS parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 6:41 PM

It is time for OP and OPRFHS to take the reins and start working on improving the environment for learning, and reduce the climate of abuse from minors. The neighbors who witness & suffer the abuse should get a refund on their property taxes. If some of the kids doing drugs/alcohol get caught send them to a school where their ideal exists: the West Side Chicago public schools, just for a week. That'll open their eyes to the opportunities in front of them. OP wake up & call on the drug dogs.

OPRF & Fenwick parent from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 6:32 PM

"They deserve a break from the rigors of HS..."??? Are you kidding me? These kids have more liesure time than any other kids their age in the developed world. The open campus is another relic from the 1960's that needs to be put to pasture. As I recall there also were smoking lounges...shall we bring those back too, to help with the rigors of HS??

Warren Schmaus from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:21 PM

The open vs. closed campus issue is a red herring. Students will find a way to sell drugs on a closed campus. Security must be improved. My kids, who graduated some years ago, would tell me that drugs and alcohol were being sold right inside the school building. My favorite story was the one about the student who regularly brought an aluminum suitcase full of drugs to school, right past security!

Parent of an OPRF student  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 3:23 PM

I have a few rebutals to the above comments. The "children who want to do well" are not distracted by these kids. They will do well regardless. The kids who want to smoke pot or drink during school hours will do so whether campus is open or closed. Close campus to Freshman and Sophmore. Enter and leave one exit, color coded id's are already in place (i think.) Drug dogs ok, drug testing NO WAY! I will NEVER put my child future in the hands of someone else in that manner.

OP Parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 3:09 PM

These students work extremely hard. The idea that they can walk to a coffee house or sandwich shop at lunch is not a distraction. They deserve a break from the rigors of high school -- both academically and socially. Students who are using drugs, drinking, or having sex at lunchtime need help. Closing the campus does nothing to resolve those issues. As far as other high schools, many of them are not located in a residential area where the students can walk out for a sandwich at lunchtime.

Nancy from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:40 PM

Jack is right! Dress codes or uniforms simplify and improve many factors so why not use this proven tool?

Adult Citizen from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:37 PM

They're minors. Who is their legal guardian during the school day? That's who should decide and be ultimately responsible.

Jack Flynn from River Forest  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:36 PM

There is a serious discipline problem here and yet no one seems to offer a simple solution to greatly reduce these problems. It is a strict dress code policy. All over the country schools see discipline issues decline by 50% when such a policy is put into effect. If you all look pretty much the same you eliminate a great deal of peer pressure. Also, it helps in security and reduces any form of gang dress. Why not try it for a few years to see the results???

Bobbie Raymond from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:31 PM

Most of the top academic schools in the Chicago metro area do not allow students to leave the campus during the school day. Expanding closed campus to include 9-11th grades would definitely cut neighborhood drug/smoking/drinking/ sex infractions at lunchtime. Seniors could earn the privilege to leave. The campus was closed for most of the existence of school, including when I attended in the 50s. The goal should be a healthier student/faculty/administration -- less obesity, healthier food.

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:28 PM

one of the few schools with an open campus - hmm -perhaps other schools don't have open campuses for good reasons. Limiting the opportunities for temptations is always wise for youngsters. These are our children. They are minors, whose brains are not yet fully developed, especially with regard to impulse control.

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 1:05 PM

The funny thing is none of the ppl who attended this forum know what "open campus" is. It is not just leaving school grounds, it give us, as students, a chance to walk away from the stress and troubles in a normal day that this school gives us. Yes some kids do choose to smoke, and even dumber kids choose to drink, but notice the good things about this school and ask yourself if we dont deserve to be one of the only schools in the state to be able to get oustide and enjoy the beatiful campus.

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