A weekend interview with ...
... Jan Urbanski, Pinellas County supervisor of safe and drug-free schools. With graduation right around the corner, much attention has turned to how seniors celebrate afterward. Reporter Donna Winchester spoke with Urbanski about teens and alcohol.
DW: Hillsborough County sheriff's officials announced earlier this week they will crack down on underage drinking by focusing on party hosts, which could mean jail time for parents who allow their kids to drink alcohol. What do you think of that idea?
JU: I think it's probably a good thing for Hillsborough to do. But I'm not disappointed that we're not doing it exactly the same way. We have other things in place to address the same issues.
DW: How is the situation handled in Pinellas?
JU: In several different ways. It's not just done through the school system. The Live Free Substance Abuse Coalition of Pinellas is involved. It's a collaborative effort between the school system, the community and law enforcement to get the message out to educate parents about the health risks and the safety risks involved with teen drinking. We want parents to know that, yes, it is against the law and there are legal ramifications. We also want to educate them to the dangers to the children.
DW: What are you doing specifically to discourage parents from serving alcohol to teens?
JU: Our focus, at least through the school system, has been getting the word out to parents through information going home in newsletters. We're interested in getting that message out rather than punishing them once they have the party. We want to prevent it from happening in the first place.
DW: And do you think that's working? Wouldn't it support your efforts to have law enforcement agencies here cracking down on parents?
JU: Obviously, law enforcement is extremely important in any kind of effort. Yes, we do think the law should be enforced. But our preference is that we educate the parents so they don't have the party in the first place.
DW: How serious an issue is this in Pinellas?
JU: It is definitely an issue. It's something we've been working on with our education partners for quite some time. The prevalence survey we do each year does have a question about where kids are drinking. Overall, it's at parties. It follows the same trend it has in the past that shows our younger kids are getting alcohol from home. The ones who would be graduating are fraternizing at friends' houses and at parties. But our Florida youth survey shows the majority of our kids are not drinking.
DW: Some parents think they're helping teens by supervising their alcohol use. What would you say to parents who give that as a reason for allowing teens to drink?
JU: That's a norm we nave to change. Just taking away their keys is not acceptable. It's not okay for them to drink. It's harmful to the teens.
DW: According to Pinellas schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn, the district is going "school by school" to get the word out that students need to "make good choices." Do you think that's sufficient?
JU: We'll see. I don't think we can all of a sudden start punishing parents. I think it has to be a collaboration of the schools, the community and law enforcement all working together. I do absolutely believe law enforcement needs to enforce the laws. As far as seeking out parents to arrest, I think in most circumstances, that wouldn't be the best use of law enforcement's time. If they're aware of a party, I think the parents need to be held accountable. It's dangerous for the kids and it's against the law.