School district will re-examine student substance-use policy
DARIEN — When Superintendent Dan Brenner took charge of the Darien School District, drinking among high school students was already an issue.
According to a 2014 study dedicated to the 06820 zip code, about one quarter of Darien High School students admitted to having had a drink in the past month — significantly more that the national average of 14 percent.
Spurred on by the ongoing problem, the school district is re-examining its policy on substance use as part of a serious effort to crack down on the exponentially high rates of alcohol use among teens in Darien.
Teen drinking habits
United States: 14 percent
Connecticut: 18 percent
Fairfield County: 24 percent
Darien: 26 percent
“The Commitment” is a Darien High School philosophy introduced in the early 1980s, saying student athletes needed to stay substance free during their seasons or else face a 14-day game suspension. Students caught on a second offense would be suspended for 28 days. In 1997, the policy was updated to include students in the presence of alcohol in the agreement and in 2008, it expanded to include students in all extracurricular activities.
“This isn’t about penalizing them,” Brenner said. “This is about students who are potentially in trouble and we’re there to support them.”
Brenner said the district’s drinking policy was presented to him as an issue when he arrived in 2015, and over the past year he’s had a committee looking into the agreement. The goal is to minimize substance use while holding students accountable in a more consistent manner.
Brenner said some of these concerns include the disparity in consequences if students get caught drinking during a season versus during the off season. This shift in consequences leads to more pre-season parties to avoid getting suspended if caught. The random identification of students at parties was also an issue, and while police will be turning over the names of students arrested, they will no longer hand over the names of students caught at parties.
“What we found was students being turned over to the school represented a small number of students who potentially were in those parties,” Brenner said.
While there are no definite solutions proposed yet, Brenner said the committee studying “The Commitment” is looking to work with police, address inconsistencies in the philosophy and get parents involved in a solution.