The proverbial elephant in the room has been stomping down the hallways of Homer High School.
Rumors have been raging among students and parents about an incident at a Sept. 8 teenage drinking party at an East End Road home.
The rumors have stirred up a discussion on bullying and underage drinking a discussion stymied by Alaska State Troopers’ and school officials’ inability to speak publicly about the event until an investigation is complete.
A parent meeting about the off-campus incident and Homer High School’s response is at 7 p.m. today in the Mariner Theatre. Sgt. Jeremy Stone, head of the Anchor Point Alaska State Trooper Post, will attend the meeting, as will Homer High School principal Dr. Allan Gee and school counselors.
“We’ll allow people to share if they have suggestions and ideas for how to work through this in the community,” Gee said.
South Peninsula Haven House also holds a meeting, “Voices Over Violence: A dialogue for youth on creating a safer tomorrow,” at 5:45 p.m. Monday in Pioneer Hall Room 201, Kachemak Bay Campus.
The forum for youth and parents will provide information and education on what is consent for any type of physical touching. Haven House counselors also will talk about how to stand up to inappropriate behavior and not be a bystander.
“If you see something you’re concerned with, how to safely respond to that,” said Haven House Executive Director Jessica Lawmaster.
What is known about the incident is this:
Following that teenage drinking party at an East End Road house, Alaska State Troopers received a report of harm to a person from medical personnel in Homer.
That report of harm is under investigation, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters. No charges have been filed, and troopers cannot comment further on the incident, she said.
The Monday after the party, some student athletes came to Gee or Vice Principal Douglas Waclawski and admitted they had been at the party and violated the Alaska Student Athletic Association proximity rule, a rule prohibiting students participating in ASAA-sanctioned events from willingly remaining where alcohol is served to minors. As a result of those admissions and an investigation, 14 student athletes were suspended from ASAA events for 10 days or more.
“The rest of the information I was not privy to,” Gee said of what else happened at the party.
Gee said that although he also has heard rumors about what happened at the party, he cannot discuss the details. Doing so might jeopardize the trooper investigation. Gee also said troopers did not share information with him. Troopers did come to school Sept. 10 to interview students about the alleged incident.
Gee also emphasized that as a school administrator he’s limited in how he can address off-campus activity, with enforcement of the proximity rule the only avenue to discipline off-campus drinking by students. If Homer High School students do get charged with a crime either as an adult or through the Division of Juvenile Justice, the school district will look at that student’s charges to see if his or her presence on campus threatens the safety of other students.
Stories about an incident at the party range from extreme bullying to possible sexual assault. The Homer News also has heard rumors of what happened at the event, but cannot confirm independently any accounts.
Teachers and counselors were encouraged to talk with students about the larger issue of bullying and hazing. The Homer Theatre held a free afternoon showing of “Bully,” a film about bullying, during its ninth annual Homer Documentary Film Festival last month.
“We had almost half our students going to see the film ‘Bully’ in hopes some conversations will surface not only regarding that specific topic, but other issues as well,” Gee said.
Gee also wrote a letter to parents dated Sept. 21 and posted on the school’s web page.
The issue of teen drinking also came up in a report recently released by the Homer Prevention Project. It recently did an assessment evaluating underage drinking and adult heavy and binge drinking. That assessment found that of local high school students:
75 percent had at least one drink of alcohol in their life;
41 percent had at least one drink in the past 30 days;
25 percent had at least five or more drinks in a row within the past 30 days; and
24 percent reported riding in a car in the past 30 days driven by someone who had been drinking.
The assessment also found significant adult binge drinking, with 10 percent of adults surveyed saying they drank five or more drinks in a row in the past 30 days. The report also found that 46 percent of Homer Police arrests involved alcohol and 47 percent of all assault cases reported to troopers involved alcohol.
The Homer Prevention Project came about through efforts of MAPP, or Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. MAPP also holds a community meeting, “Working Together to Improve Community Health,” from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Hall at Kachemak Bay Campus. MAPP is a local community health improvement effort that has defined certain health improvement goals, including addressing substance abuse and domestic violence. Friday’s meeting will look at its efforts.
“We have been used for larger community conversations to address strategies for prevention,” said Megan Murphy, the MAPP coordinator. “There are efforts to connect our community resources and dialogue together to address these things.”
At a Homer High School Site Council meeting on Tuesday, about 40 people, mostly parents of students, spoke during a public comment period about the Sept. 8 party and teen alcohol abuse some said they saw or heard about at the recent homecoming dance.
“It seemed like pretty much every one of these rules was not enforced at the dance,” said Jeff Middleton, holding up a copy of the rules. “There was drinking going on there or kids were coming drunk.”
Middleton said his daughter had been touched inappropriately on the dance floor and came home upset.
“There was sexual assault going on at the dance floor,” said another parent, Karen Shemet. “Something more needs to be done to protect our kids. I’m furious.”
The homecoming dance had a “mosh pit,” an area enclosed by tables, where students danced in close quarters.
Gee said there would not be mosh pits at future dances.
Teachers and staff screen students entering dances for alcohol and drugs and search bags and coats, Gee said, and chaperones attend to help keep kids responsible. Students get warned once for inappropriate dancing and the second time get told to sit out the dance.
Janet McNary, a site council member, said she’s been told students slam back shots of booze in the parking lot before coming to dances and then chew gum to hide the smell. Because the alcohol hasn’t metabolized, initially they appear sober.
One parent said the problem is larger than a few incidents.
“We can address each thing separately, but in the end, I plead with you to look at the culture of consumption,” said Robin McCallistar.
At the site council meeting, Gee said he felt frustrated that he couldn’t speak openly about the details of the Sept. 8 teen party incident.
“I’m a parent. I have two high school kids. I’m angered,” he said. “Everyone in this room knows there was severe misconduct as well. I am not allowed to share that information.”
Several parents asked for more openness.
“I grew up in the dark ages when there was silence when things like this happened,” said Charlie Gibson. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“I would plead for an open forum, straight talk,” said Cynthia Morelli. “Let’s have an open dialogue. Let’s be honest.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.