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posted: 8/13/2014 5:00 AM

Experts: District 87's strict alcohol policy keeps teens out of trouble

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Experts on the risks of underage drinking are applauding Glenbard High School District 87's alcohol policy, as well as the strict enforcement that's been called into question by dozens of parents and students in recent days.

The district's school board Monday heard many criticisms of the policy from teens and parents unhappy about the suspensions of 30 Glenbard West High School student-athletes who'd attended parties where alcohol was served this summer, even if they didn't drink themselves.

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While experts agree that non-drinking teens can be a positive influence on their peers, they say parties where alcohol is served aren't the right environment to send a message.

Such a suggestion was made by former Glenbard West High School student Connor Loftus at Monday night's meeting. Loftus said district policy kept non-drinkers like himself from being at such gatherings "to defuse the potentially dangerous situations that often arise as a result of binge drinking."

While respecting Loftus' sentiments, counselors and others who spoke to the Daily Herald on Tuesday said policies like District 87's protect non-drinking students more than they might realize.

"The purpose is to prevent students from being put in at-risk situations due to peer pressure," said Laura Larson-Gibbons, positive youth development coordinator at the Elk Grove Village-based Kenneth Young Center, which offers programs aimed at preventing teen substance abuse.

Larson-Gibbons' is familiar with similar "24/7" school policies through her work with both Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54.

"The purpose of the policies is not be punitive; it's to be positive," she said.

Such policies protect students from peer pressure that can lead to underage drinking, which in turn leads to a higher lifetime risk of alcohol addiction, Larson-Gibbons said.

Apart from school policies and the potential of being suspended from sports, avoiding legal problems is an even better reason to avoid drinking parties while underage, said Deb Howe, marketing and development director of the Renz Addiction Counseling Center in Elgin.

Sam Canzoneri, the state executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a former police officer in Lake Bluff, said police don't always have the means to test the blood-alcohol concentration of everyone at a party. As a result, many local ordinances simply have zero tolerance for underage attendees.

"If you don't want to pay the consequences, don't put yourself in that position," Canzoneri said. "I would say any kid who takes his academic and athletic career seriously (who) is at a party where he can sense nothing good is going to come would or should just walk away."

He said MADD doesn't always agree with school policies, citing a case in Connecticut where a girl called to take a friend away from an alcohol party suffered the same consequences as everyone else there.

Robyn Block, Illinois coordinator for Students Against Destructive Decisions, said the organization hopes non-drinking students will be vocal about their decisions. But they would be taking on a serious burden and risk by intending to carry that message into a drinking party.

"You want to be with your friends and have a good time, but you don't have to have alcohol to have a good time," Block said. "There are so many things that can go wrong when you throw alcohol into the mix."

While there may be teens who can hold out against peer pressure even at a party, Block believes it's a slippery slope.

Alcohol policies like District 87's may be all the reason students need to excuse themselves from such an environment, she said. "I applaud a school that enforces their policy, but it is not a simple thing -- not a simple thing for the students," Block said.

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