Rumson Superintendent Leads Honest Discussion About Underage Drinking

April 23, 2018
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Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Superintendent Peter Righi addressed a group of parents on April 16 at a Community Alliance event concerning underage drinking in the community. The meeting was mandatory for parents of students who wished to attend prom. Photo by Chris Rotolo

By Chris Rotolo |

RUMSON – According to superintendent Peter Righi, the April 16 Healthy Community Meeting and alcohol awareness seminar at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School was about honest discussion.

The educational program – which was mandatory for parents of those students who will attend the school’s upcoming senior prom – featured an opening information session on the laws associated with underage drinking by Rumson Police Sgt. Donald Schneider and Senior Patrolman Bryan Dougherty.

Stacy Doumas, a child and adolescent psychiatry specialist for the Hackensack Meridian Medical Group at Riverview Medical Center spoke about the negative impact alcohol can have on the developing adolescent brain.

However, the most poignant segment of the evening was saved for last, when Righi stepped to the podium to speak as both a school leader and father and offered his school community a sobering dose of reality.

“This isn’t about judgment or pointing fingers. I’ve been here since 2000, raised four kids in this school system, and what we see growing here is a real problem,” Righi said. “Teenage alcohol use might be on the decline nationwide but I see it as a growing problem in our school and community.”

Righi placed real-life scenarios and experiences to the information provided by Doumas, speaking of students entering school on Monday mornings who are visibly “not prepared” to be in classes due to weekend alcohol consumption.

The superintendent also touched upon the role parents and guardians play in the process, expanding on the topic of the “cool parent” – a subject initially broached by Schneider and Dougherty – by cautioning residents against opening their homes and basements as safe havens for teenage drinkers or providing access to alcohol for teens.

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“Kids are going to do it. Teenagers are going to experiment with certain things and alcohol is one of them. But we don’t have to make it so easy for them,” Righi said. “We don’t have to tacitly agree. Kids are going to do things without our permission. But we don’t have to give them our permission either.”

Though not directly addressed by Righi, the elephant in the room was an incident in Vermont in February, when 50 Two River-area students on a school break were discovered by local authorities at a party inside a home rented by a local resident. The students were all issued citations for possession of a vast quantity of alcohol and a civil amount of marijuana.

Righi advised that Monday’s event was scheduled well in advance of that incident and was not reactionary, though the superintendent did admit that off-campus events like state championship football games at Rutgers University – where the Bulldogs program has appeared the last five years – have become increasingly difficult for him and fellow administrators to attend, as they are often called upon to confront students about excessive alcohol consumption.

With the Vermont incident still hovering over this school community, and other off-campus issues related to alcohol becoming more and more regular, some parents in attendance said they were pleased with Monday’s session.

“I’m very happy that we were able to have this event, because a lot of what was talked about needed to be said and I agreed with a lot of it from a professional and parental standpoint,” said Amy Clark of Rumson, who is the mother of a student in the district and a special education teacher at Rumson Country Day School.

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“There’s a lot of pressure on these kids to succeed in the classroom, to get into college, to be par t of a championship team. Those things don’t come easily. It takes hard work. And when you add alcohol to the mix, it can reverse everything your child is looking to do,” Clark added.

Righi went on discuss the school board’s impending response to increasing underage drinking issues and detailed new changes in policies and procedures. They include turning off-campus underage drinking incidents (like those at state championship football games) over to police officers hired by the school district; no longer expunging in-school or out-of-school suspensions from student records; and altering the length or place of suspensions in an attempt to keep kids in school or bring them back to school more quickly.

“This is valuable time we’re putting into dealing with these situations and they are taking away from the academics we should be worrying about,” Righi said. “It’s gotten out of hand and our school board has seen this.”

When it comes to the prom, Righi announced the school will be utilizing a passive breath analyzer, asking all students in attendance to blow into it prior to entrance. The device records a student’s name and blood alcohol level. Righi also said the device will be used at athletic events, as well as other school-sponsored trips that require buses.

This article was first published in the April 19-26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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