Parents gather to discuss teen substance abuse

Vashon Island School District’s new substance abuse prevention specialist plans to hold a special meeting with parents next week, in part because of mounting parental concern about the teen party scene on the Island this fall.

Two teen parties in the last month got so out of hand that the King County Sheriff’s Office responded. According to a police incident report, one of those parties involved teens breaking into a Vashon home that nobody currently lives in because the owner has listed it for sale.

Considerable property damage occurred, including a hole punched into a wall, a broken window screen and soiled carpets, Sgt. Cindi West, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said. One 16-year-old was arrested, West said. Owners of the home, however, opted not to press charges; the two families, she said, are working out some kind of restitution.

Terrie Tilotta, a prevention and intervention specialist hired by the Puget Sound Educational Services District to serve Vashon, said Vashon High School doesn’t have a role to play in a situation like the party at the vacant house.

“When it happens and it’s not at school, the school’s role is pretty minimal,” she said.

Nonetheless, she noted, parents are voicing concern about Vashon’s party scene and are wondering how they can work with the school district and talk to other parents about their concerns or observations.

Tilotta held a meeting in October after eight parents approached her to discuss their concerns; 20 attended, she said. As a result, she’s now holding a meeting open to all parents to discuss teen substance abuse.

“The school’s a partner,” she said. Parents, however, can’t turn to the school for discipline or expect the school to enforce family rules, she added. “We want to make sure parents have the skills to address these situations. … We want to make sure we’re shoring up our families.”

One issue, she noted, is that parents aren’t sure how to talk to other parents about what they see happening or what their teens tell them. She hopes to help parents begin to find ways to have what she called “adult conversations” with one another.

Laura Wishik, chair of the school board and the mother of two, also said she’d like to help parents get together to discuss concerns and share information.

“I hear from a lot of parents that they’re afraid about contacting other parents and afraid of talking to school officials,” she said.

Indeed, she said, she’s experienced how delicate such conversations can be. “Last year, I heard rumors about kids using and contacted parents with mixed results,” she said.

Parents, however, need to get past there reluctance to speak openly about what they’re hearing, se said.

“We need to work together in order to make the environment at school and on Vashon as safe as possible,” she said.

Wishik has also asked her fellow board members to list the issue of addressing teen substance abuse as one of their goals for the upcoming year. If the board approves the goal, the five-member panel would likely review the district’s policies and procedures “in order to be sure they’re sufficient,” Wishik said.

Robin Blair, who heads the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA), said she, too, has been hearing from concerned parents.

“There are a lot of anxieties right now based on the fact that there were two parties,” she said.

But Blair said parents, school officials and community leaders need more information in order to ensure they’re responding intelligently, not simply emotionally.

“I have a concern (about partying),” she said. “What I don’t have is a really solid understanding of the depth of the problem.”

To that end, she said, VARSA plans to survey parents, teachers, coaches and others in January to try to more fully understand teen substance abuse on Vashon. The organization also hopes to survey teens again.

Tilotta, Blair added, is a great resource for parents. “But the solutions to this long term don’t lie with her,” Blair added. “They lie with the community.”


Terrie Tilotta and other school officials will facilitate an open parent meeting to discuss teen substance abuse as well as prevention and intervention programs at Vashon High School. It will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the VHS library.


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