The arrest of 47 juveniles during a New Year's Eve party for underage drinking has led school board members to consider reviving the district's drug-and-alcohol policy.
At a Board of Education meeting Monday night, the New Year's Eve bust prompted board member Michael Caulfield to propose a motion to revive ADAPT, the Alcohol/Drug Assistance Program for Teens. The board is expected to vote on the issue during its Jan. 23 meeting.
According to Cranford Police Lt. James Wozniak, at 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve, police were called to a home on Garden Street on a report of a fight taking place in that area. When police arrived, they discovered a "large number of juveniles on the scene. After a brief investigation, it was determined that an underage party was being held with alcohol on the premise," according to the official police report.
The 47 juveniles were processed on the scene and charged with violating Cranford Township Ordinance 58-16, which prohibits underage possession/consumption of alcohol on private property. Many of the teens were 15 to 18 years old and students at Cranford High School. The ordinance was approved in 2001 and prohibits anyone "under the age of 21" from possessing or consuming alcohol on private property. All of the juveniles were released to adults at the scene with Juvenile Court proceedings pending. There were no adults charged in the incident. Wozniak said the penalty for the first offense is a $250 fine. Subsequent offenses could result in a fine of $350 and the court also could suspend or postpone the offender’s driving privileges for up to six months if found guilty.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy in this town against kids drinking and using drugs and it's strictly enforced," Wozniak said, adding that, "the matter has been turned over to the juvenile court."
After hearing about the incident, Caulfield decided to make the motion to re-instate the policy.
"I made the motion to re-instate the ADAPT program in the form we had about a year ago, prior to the Indian Hills Superior Court decision in Bergen County," Caulfield said. The board member explained that the prior version of the policy had tiered consequences "for students who were charged by the police, or otherwise apprehended, as intoxicated or in possession of alcohol or drugs."
"Among those consequences were suspension from playing sports or participating in afterschool clubs for first-offender students who had been charged and failed to comply with the demands of the ADAPT program. There were other, more strict consequences for second offenders," Caulfield added. "The Indian Hills decision seemingly removed the school district's right to apply its ADAPT program if the incident in question occurred 'off campus' at a non-school related function/event, unless the upshot of the event caused substantial disruption at the school and interference with the education."
Superintendent of Schools Gayle Carrick emphasized that the policy can only be enforced if students are caught drinking or in possession of alcohol at a school-related function.
"Not off school property," she said.
Caulfield believes there is an ongoing problem with underage drinking in Cranford and that officials need to address it head-on.
"Given that the Indian Hills decision did not set binding precedent on Union County courts — or any other NJ court, for that matter — and given that the HIB (Harassment Intimidation and Bullying) law, which does bind all courts in the New Jersey, states that school districts must address incidents that occur away from school; and given that we, Cranford, had an incident over New Year's Eve where some 47 CHS students, allegedly 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds were apprehended for possessing and/or consuming alcohol at a party at a private residence, and given that a CHS student was recently caught smoking marijuana at a school function, and given that, over the years, we have witnessed horrific events that arose from students' drinking," Caulfield said.
He added that "it is common knowledge that there is an ongoing, underage drinking problem in Cranford."
"I believe that we must stop running scared of a non-binding court decision and reinstate our ADAPT policy in the hope that its application just might help to deter students' unlawful alcohol consumption, which deterrence might prevent further deaths or injuries to the underage drinkers or to the victims of those underage drinkers."
School Board President Mary Venditti said she will support the re-examination of the policy to see if it can be re-instated to include consequences for students caught drinking at non-school functions.
"I want to look at it again. I'm anxious to see where we left off," Venditti said. "We have to do something. We can't just leave things the way they are."
The board president is hoping the entire board will agree to revisit the issue.
"To those adults who say: it's my personal business to enforce the law with my child, I say: Do so, but for those whose efforts aren't effective, I would rather have this policy in action with whatever effects it can bring to bear to assist you 'enforcing' parents, and to help prevent injury or death to the underage drinkers and their victims whose parents, of which we know from New Year's Eve, there are at least 47, are not effective in preventing their children from underage drinking," Caulfield said.