Town Hall provides open forum on underage drinking, substance abuse


TownHallMeeting_11.625x10.5_04.13.17_v2The Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce, Liberty Hill ISD and the newspaper are hosting a community Town Hall meeting one week before the Liberty Hill High School Prom to facilitate an open discussion about underage drinking and substance abuse.

The Town Hall meeting, which is open to the public, is from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, at LHHS Auditorium. Families with children of all ages are welcome, and supper will be provided without charge by the Panther Pit Crew.

“A Town Hall forum to talk about underage drinking allows the school district to work with the community as a whole to address the challenges faced by the youth of Liberty Hill,” said LHHS Principal Mario Bye. “The school district cannot accomplish everything working alone. This format allows all of us to share information and resources so we are consistent in our approach to supporting our kids.”

Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce President Rick Hall, who will serve as moderator for the meeting, said working as a community to tackle the issues of alcohol and substance abuse is important to Liberty Hill’s future. With the prom and graduation only weeks away, there’s no better time to talk about keeping young people safe. Encouraging alcohol and drug-free celebrations is critical.

“But it goes beyond that,” Hall said. “As a community, we should be working together to support each other. In my mind, that means making sure families have the information and resources they need to discourage children from making those dangerous choices.”

From 6-6:30 p.m., attendees will enjoy a free meal prepared by the Panther Pit Crew. On display outside the school will be vehicles that were involved in drunk-driving crashes allowing young and old alike to see evidence of the real consequences of driving while intoxicated.

A deputy from Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and a drug detector dog will demonstrate the effectiveness of that program in finding prohibited substances on school property.

Inside the auditorium foyer, exhibits will provide helpful information for parents and students.

From 6:30-8 p.m., a panel of professionals will speak freely about the issues, and interact with the audience on a number of related topics.

Serving on the panel are Bye, the Williamson County Sheriff, a licensed professional counselor who is also a former LHISD teacher/coach, a commander with Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services, a representative of Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and a representative of Celebrate Recovery.

Panelists will engage with the audience on topics ranging from enforcement of alcohol and drug-related laws and punishment, emergency medical response to abuse cases, and how the school district addresses cases of possession or intoxication.

A licensed professional counselor who works with both young people and adults on substance abuse issues will address mental health issues that may lead to abuse and addiction. Additionally, ideas for help and recovery will be offered.

“A public discussion is key to attacking any issue a community faces,” Bye said. “The school district cannot fix a problem alone, but neither can parents or police or our churches. We need to all be on the same page and work together. We will be stronger together than we are apart.”

Bye, who was hired as principal last summer after serving as associate principal at Seven Lakes High School in Katy ISD, said he has dealt with more drug and alcohol disciplinary issues in Liberty Hill this school year than he anticipated.

“I have been in education long enough to know that there are drug and alcohol issues in schools all across this country. We are not unique in that regard. There have been more drug and alcohol disciplinary issues this year than I thought I would see, but our Assistant Principals have been dealing with each case in a consistent manner and we are working with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to address each case appropriately,” Bye said.

While the high school is located outside the city limits, Bye and district administrators have forged a positive relationship with Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell, who will also attend the Town Hall event.

The community Town Hall concept was presented by the Chamber and The Independent to the high school following a high school Parents Night meeting in March.

“We were looking for a way to involve more people in the community in this conversation,” said Shelly Wilkison, owner/publisher of The Independent. “There is a lot of misinformation distributed on social media about alcohol and substance abuse in our schools and in our community, and we thought it was time we facilitate an open conversation about this in hopes that those who need help could easily find it.

“Mr. Bye and the school district administration quickly agreed to be participate, sharing our concerns and looking to raise awareness,” she said.

Earlier this year, some parents asked the school to host Shattered Dreams — an anti-drunk driving program featuring graphic imagery. More than 400 people signed a petition calling for the program, but Bye suggested instead that a series of Parent Night meetings would offer information on the subject.

The first of such meetings was held in March at the school. A representative of Travis County Attorney’s grant-funded Underage Drinking and Driving program offered strategies for parents to use in talking to their children about substance abuse.

After that meeting, the Chamber and the newspaper stepped up to help.

“By partnering with the Chamber of Commerce and The Independent, we can raise the awareness of this important challenge to our community,” Bye continued. “This takes cooperation from the leaders around town – the business owners, key communicators and educators working together to develop a consistent approach and work together.”

Bye said after years of working with teenagers, there is no single reason why some turn to drugs or alcohol.

“Our kids will be faced with many choices in life and we will not be there by their side every time to guide them,” he said. “The single most important factor in helping kids make good choices comes from their parents talking to them about what to do in a situation where people have drugs or alcohol. Schools need to raise their awareness of the consequences of substance abuse, but we can also offer parents programs like our Town Hall to give them the tools and knowledge to start the conversation at home.

“With this Town Hall meeting and future parent education nights at the school, we can give parents the tools they need to start conversations at home, and to form a stronger relationship with the school district,” Bye said. “We are stronger together than we are on our own.”