Iroquois Central School District officials Wednesday acknowledged that the district is not alone when it comes to battling alcohol and substance abuse among its students.
However, it is taking an unusual approach to address the problem by getting as many members of the community involved as possible.
"As a high school and as a community, we're putting all of our heads together in terms of trying to put a group of people together that really care about students," said Iroquois High School Principal Dennis Kenney, shortly before the start of a forum in Elma Town Hall that attracted more than 200 people.
"We continue to have issues with substance abuse over the years in our community, but we also know this is just not an Iroquois school issue. It's a society issue," Kenney said.
In addition to parents, students and school administrators, others attending the meeting included representatives from various local counseling services, law enforcement, faith-based institutions and local businesses.
The community forums began about a year ago, and Wednesday's was at least the sixth since then. It was moderated by Elma Town Justice Joseph Sachowski.
Those in attendance also heard from a 2006 Lancaster High School graduate and her mother. Both told the young woman's harrowing tale of drug dependency, each from her own perspective.
The audience also heard from a mother who lost her son to a drug overdose a year ago.
State Trooper Joseph DePlato, a former resource officer at Iroquois High School, and Colleen Edwards, a school social worker, shared their firsthand knowledge of substance abuse among some students at the high school. DePlato said the main substances they hear about are alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.
"Between Family Court and criminal court, we sent 18 kids in in a three-month period, and most of it was the prescription drugs. They were in possession of hydrocodone," he said.
"What a lot of our students don't realize also is that just giving a drug [to another student] is sale," he added. "They don't have to get any money for it, just giving it. And if you do it in school, it's a Class B felony for a controlled substance. It's really pretty serious, and we have arrested them."
The trooper shared a story about four freshman boys at the high school who were caught with hydrocodone.
"I told this story at one of our ninth-grade orientations, and one of the parents raised her hand and said: 'Oh, geez, should I send my kid to Iroquois? It sounds like a horrible school,' " DePlato said.
"When we tracked where the boys got the [hydrocodone] from, they got it from a boy at [Bishop] Timon who got them from a boy at Canisius [High School]," he said. "So this is a community problem. It's not only our school. It's all schools."