Ian James Eaccarino, son of Ginger Katz, died of a heroin overdose at age 20. Photo Courtesy of Courage to Speak Foundation
Newtown Bee By Larissa Lytwyn
Parent Connection, a grassroots organization of concerned parents and citizens dedicated to addressing local substance abuse, will host a presentation by Ginger Katz, founder of the Norwalk-based Courage to Speak Foundation, on February 25, from 7 to 9 pm at Newtown Middle School.
Ms Katz created the foundation shortly after losing her 20-year-old son, Ian James Eaccarino, to a heroin overdose on September 10, 1996.
“The best way to prevent your child from developing a drug problem is by speaking to your child about the dangers of drug use as early as possible,” Ms Katz advised.
In a February 2003 narrative published in Principal Leadership, a magazine of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NSSP), Ms Katz noted that “because of [Ian’s] success in sports and academics and his popularity throughout high school,” she largely did not realize “the extent of his using and dealing.”
The only evidence to the contrary was an incident during his sophomore year when police caught him in possession of marijuana.
Though Ian denied smoking it [going so far as to substitute his first urine sample with a friend’s baby brother’s] a later test came out positive.
Ensuing tests, however, continually yielded negative results.
Ms Katz thought that things would get better for him once he began attending college.
During his first semester at the University of Hartford in September 1995, however, Ian began using cocaine and snorting heroin.
While he underwent treatment the following summer, Ian relapsed on September 9, 1996 in the company of students he had abused drugs with previously, ingesting an ultimately fatal amount of heroin.
Ms Katz found him dead at 6 am the next morning.
She debated whether to reveal the truth about his death at his funeral; ultimately she decided to be honest.
The grief she saw on the faces of friends and families during the ceremony further fueled her determination to halt “the creeping evil of drugs.”
After several weeks of intense research, Ms Katz assisted Norwalk High School Principal Dewey Amos in establishing the school’s zero tolerance drug policy.
“[Mr Amos] knew that if he was going to change behavior, he had to change attitudes,” Ms Katz said in Principal Leadership.
“There are many reasons why schools cover up their drug problem and claim not to have them,” she continued, “when, in fact, nearly all schools do. People move into a community based partly on the reputation of its schools and drugs scare them away.”
She added, “Teachers and staff members with career ambitions want to be associated with a winning school, not one tarred by rumors of drug abuse or police arrests.”
Ms Katz’s anti-drug program for schools include strong consequences, heightened police security, involved parents, easy-to-access counseling via a connection between the school and local adolescent counseling centers, and “positive alternatives,” including the availability of extracurricular and community programs for youth.
In accordance with state statutes, 21-A-277 and 21-278, Newtown High School students suspected of selling or transporting or possessing a “controlled substance” with the intent to sell are expelled for one calendar year.
Also targeted are students “in possession or under the influence of intoxicants, mood altering drugs or substances, or look-alike drugs, or in possession of any related drug paraphernalia during a school session, on school premises, or at a school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation or otherwise off school grounds when such student’s conduct violates the substance abuse policy and is seriously disruptive of the educational process.” If they are not covered by mandatory expulsion rule, they are subject to a “first, second and final violation” system.
The first violation results in an automatic three-day suspension including a 21-day exclusion from school-sponsored activities. Family is automatically contacted and informed of the student’s behavior. In addition, the student must be involved in school or off-premises counseling.
The second violation results in an instant five-day suspension, including a 45-day exclusion from school-sponsored activities, as well as a possible expulsion hearing. Together with their parents or guardians, students must complete a treatment program.
A third violation will be recommended to the school board for expulsion pursuant to state statutes, section 10-233d.
For more information on Newtown High School’s substance abuse policy, acquire a 2003-04 student handbook or visit the Newtown High School administrative website at www.newtown.k12.ct.us/~nhs/admin/index.htm.
For more information Ms Katz’s “Courage to Speak” presentation, visit www.couragetospeak.org or call Parent Connection co-founder Dorrie Carolan at 426-6424 or 426-8591.
Used with permission Copyright © 1999-2004 Bee Publishing Company