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Hempfield school officials seek parental involvement in drug awareness program

| Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Hempfield Area school officials said Monday they intend to be creative and innovative in their efforts to get more parents to attend a special drug and alcohol awareness program next month — an effort that takes on heightened meaning in the wake of a suspected drug overdose of a Hempfield Area senior.

Superintendent Andy Leopold said that school officials need to find ways to get the students to bring their parents to the drug forum so they are aware of the growing drug problem among youth. The school district has held seminars conducted by experts in that field, but attendance by parents has been sparse.

“We're trying to do a better job. Parents can't afford not to come,” Leopold said.

A drug forum for parents is tentatively set for March 14, while a series of assemblies will be held with students on March 12, Leopold said.

In addition to offering information about drug abuse, Leopold indicated the parents have to become more active in the fight against drugs.

“Part of the message will be, there are times when you need to be a parent, not a friend,” Leopold said.

Jonathan Morelli, 18, a senior at Hempfield Area High School, died Feb. 6 of a suspected drug overdose. The Westmoreland County Coroner found evidence at the scene of drug use, and Morelli's mother, Rachele Morelli, said her son had previously used heroin and had undergone drug rehabilitation treatments.

Morelli's death was the fifth drug overdose fatality in the county that the coroner's office has investigated this month.

Leopold said that Hempfield Area has drug and alcohol awareness programs for its students, but that the problem persists. A lot of students will admit to experimenting with drugs, such as marijuana, and drinking alcohol, and think it is not a problem.

“We're obviously not getting to a lot of the young people. A little bit of that is not OK. Young people think it won't happen to me,” Leopold said.

School Director Randy Stoner, a member of the district's drug awareness and prevention program, suggested making attendance at the drug prevention programs a requirement for graduation.

Leopold said that such an idea “is not too far down the road.”

Drug prevention experts are telling school officials that they need to introduce the drug and alcohol awareness programs not just in the middle school, but in fourth and fifth grades, with age-appropriate information.

“You need to talk about it before they (students) even begin to think of those thoughts,” Leopold said.

Lori Shasko of Hempfield suggested requiring students suspected of drug use to undergo drug testing.

The district does not have a policy requiring students to undergo drug testing if they are suspected of drug use. The superintendent said he sees a lot of legal ramifications to drug testing.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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