Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:50 PM on Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Troopers investigate teen party incident

Different meetings designed to open community dialogue

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

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."

"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 michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

Letter from Dr. Allan Gee

Dear Parents,

As we have recently gone through the process of providing consequences to a few of our student athletes who violated athletic association rules, I wanted you to be aware of our response in terms of the communication and support being offered to our students while also protecting the confidentiality of all Homer High students to the best extent possible.

Next week, two of our teachers, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Putney, are taking all of their students (almost half of the student body) to see the documentary film, Bully, being shown at the Homer Theater. Although this film will address the specific topic of bullying, I am certain this will also open up the opportunity for students to talk through other issues that have surfaced recently. I will be asking our counselors to work with Mr. Campbell and Mr. Putney (as needed) should students wish to talk through their concerns and we will provide a safe environment for this to happen.

I am working with Mr. Perk, Health/PE Teacher, to engage all freshmen students in conversations (as a component of the substance abuse/safety curriculum in his health classes) where students will discuss the impact of substance abuse on self, family, school, and community.

I will also be asking all of our coaches to not only talk with their players again regarding the tobacco, alcohol, and drug policies (TAD) but to also talk with parents of their athletes to work together and communicate with each other to prevent these types of incidents from occurring.

Finally, I met with a few coaches this week and we are looking at creating some form of an advisory group (similar to a Board of Control for athletic events) to assist our head coaches when they are faced with addressing a major incident on their team. This is only at the conceptual stage but hopefully will provide a mechanism to support our coaches, especially new coaches, so they do not feel isolated as they deal with these types of difficult, unpleasant decisions.

Please know I am not only a school administrator, I am a parent of two high school students. I am often torn between my emotional responses in wanting to address an incident no differently than most parents when faced with the misconduct of their child. However, I must also remind myself and others that I am only the school administrator which limits my jurisdiction only to

Homer High School school activities with the exception being the TAD policy for student athletes. Fortunately, we have dedicated law enforcement officers within our community to address reported misconduct and I trust they will follow through, when necessary, with appropriate action.

As you know, we have great kids at Homer High focused on their academics, actively involved in our community, and participating in numerous extra-curricular activities. When negative incidents of this type surface, it tends to be the only topic of conversation. However, I will continue to share our story of the positive things that are happening at Homer High. Our kids deserve this.

Best Regards,

Dr. Allan Gee

September 21, 2012

600 East Fairview Avenue, Homer, AK 99603 Telephone: 907-235-4600 FAX: 907-235-8933

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District