SWAMPSCOTT — School officials courted controversy last night when they gathered parents to sign onto their anti-drug and -alcohol policy. While barring the media from what was already a controversial meeting, they earned resentment from some when they refused to let parents speak.
The extraordinary pressure mounted to get parents there — the school threatened to bar the children of absent parents from sports and clubs — had already created national headlines. Principal Layne Millington and Superintendent Lynne Celli justified the tactic by citing an alarming level of drug and alcohol use in the school.
Celli made it clear prior to the meeting that parents would not be invited to speak. She also explained the decision to bar the media, saying, "This is for parents."
Because he is a parent of a Swampscott High School freshman, Salem News reporter Ethan Forman could not be barred. However, at one point, a plainclothes detective tried to kick him out, saying it was a private meeting.
A video created by school officials and the Swampscott Drug, Alcohol and Youth Risk Behavior Task Force was shown, including scenes of students holding up handwritten signs like: "52 percent of us have reported smoking marijuana." Stories of young people lost to substance abuse were also included.
"We have seen an increase in drug and alcohol use at a younger age than we are used to," Swampscott Detective Rose Cheever said in the video.
The video was shown at both meetings. For space reasons — the parking lot filled to overflowing — ninth- and 10th-grade parents met first, followed by 11th and 12.
At the first meeting, Millington explained that he'd taken action after police reports of student substance abuse landed on his desk. Now the new chemical health policy, previously applied only to athletes, will affect all students "365 days of the year," on and off school grounds.