By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
A town hall meeting May 3 brought together counselors, community leaders, and law enforcement representatives to answer questions from parents on how best to tackle the problem of underage drinking and drug use.
The panel included Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, Agent Greg Lewis from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Austin/Travis County EMS Commander Michael Wright, Liberty Hill High School Principal Mario Bye, Licensed Professional Counselor Vicki Bates and Celebrate Recovery counselor David Amstutz.
All agreed that while there is no “home run solution,” quality time between parents and their children goes a long way toward it. Amstutz at one point physically waved a stack of papers he said was a Harvard study proving that a weekly dinner spent by a family together had a positive statistical correlation with students’ performance in schools.
Other suggestions to fight substance abuse spanned a wide range.
Bates, a former Liberty Hill ISD teacher and coach, recommended that schools implement more random drug testing for students in extracurricular activities and those driving vehicles to school. She said she had seen students use this reason as a way to decline substances from their peers without losing face.
Wright, who is also the pastor at Fellowship Church, advised parents to install spyware on their children’s phones.
“They have no privacy,” he said. “Who pays for that phone?”
Wright said that in a previous setting, where he had made the same recommendation, a parent approached him later to say that they discovered their child was a drug dealer.
“You never know,” Wright said.
Questions from audience members drove the discussion along, which lasted from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the high school. Only the first question had been prepared in advance, which asked if Liberty Hill had a problem with underage drinking and drug use.
“If it’s happening in Austin, it’s happening here,” Chody said.
“I’m not naive enough to think that Liberty Hill doesn’t have a problem. All schools do,” Bye said.
The meeting came as the second installment in an after-hours program for parents Bye had initially organized as an alternative to Shattered Dreams, a program that focuses on uncensored imagery and candid speech to demonstrate to students the cost of drunk driving.
Bye’s administration had found issue with the potential effect that such an approach could have on students who have already seen the impact of drunk driving first hand. For other students, school counselors still questioned its effectiveness.
A first night for parents to talk about drunk driving was held in March where fewer than 12 were in attendance, including organizers and the speaker.
The Chamber of Commerce and The Liberty Hill Independent lent support for last Wednesday’s event, and grew it into a town hall setting after securing speakers from the TABC, EMS, and others. About 80 were in attendance. Wednesday’s program came one week before prom.
Before the panel discussion, a host of other educational events were hosted in the parking lot.
A K-9 unit from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department demonstrated how drug detector dogs can sniff out narcotics. A sample package containing real drugs was hidden on a dummy car brought to the parking lot. The dog successfully located the package within seconds.
A totaled car, taken from an actual drunk driving incident, sat crumpled nearby.
Inside, booths from different organizations related to substance abuse, drunk driving, and underage drinking had free literature and displays.
The Panther Pit Crew provided barbecue sandwiches for everyone.