Schools trying to get parents up-to-speed on social hosting laws

Here and Now

It’s prom season and along with the elaborate hair-dos, corsages, and heels comes another teenage ritual: drinking.

Schools around the country have implemented countless measures to prevent it, including starting prom in the late afternoon shortly after school, providing mandatory transportation from school, and even making kids walk a straight line to waiting buses.

But what’s harder for schools to control is what happens at the after parties that aren’t sanctioned by the schools.

In some communities, officials are telling parents to beware. Some 28 states now have some variation of so-called “social host liability” laws, which make it illegal for parents to provide alcohol to minors — even in the confines of their own homes.

Such a law made headlines in Massachusetts last week when a mother in the Boston-area city of Beverly was sentenced to six months in jail and another six months of home confinement for supplying alcohol to her daughter’s friend. She’s believed to be one of the first people around the country to be jailed for an incident that didn’t involve a fatality.

Some high schools, including Belmont High in Belmont, Mass., are now offering social host liability training, teaching parents about the laws. Michael Harvey, Belmont High School principal, said it’s important to have these trainings to make parents aware of what’s going on.

“We have conducted some surveys in the past that have shown us that it is something that’s going on in our community,” he said.

The local district attorney’s office put on the social hosting class. Parents who choose to provide alcohol to their children often do so under the belief that they’ll drink one way or another, and they’d rather be able to supervise them.

“There are a lot of anecdotal stories we hear where students leave the party and things go horribly wrong afterwards,” Harvey said. “It’s just a dangerous practice to have teenagers mixing with alcohol.”

In a recent seminar, there were about 30 parents in attendance. But Harvey won’t be satisfied until every parent has attended.

“I think everybody needs to hear it,” he said.

Carol Cohen, Belmont High assistant principal, said the seminars at their school had four different presenters, including an assistant district attorney who discusses what the law itself says. Another lawyer described horrendous examples of parents who had situations go horribly wrong when they tried to let their children drink in their homes.

Two police officers also talked about specific incidents in the Belmont community and what they do to try and keep children safe. 

“There was a question of how do I teach my child to drink responsibly, to which the answer is, until they’re 21, they should not be drinking,” Cohen said. “Once you start to drink, your judgment’s impaired and things can go incredibly wrong.”

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