F our Whitehall Central School students were suspended for drug-related incidents Jan. 25, and at least one has been arrested.
“It’s scary, and it’s sad. It’s a huge blow,” said Principal Kelly McHugh, who was open about the incident.
“I think it has had a huge impact on the students and the faculty,” she said. “Some of the students watched while two of their classmates were taken out of the building in handcuffs by state troopers. It was very quiet.
“I have known these boys since they were 12 years old, and it broke my heart to see them up against the wall and handcuffed,” she said. “I feel very comfortable being public about this. I have major concerns about drug use in the community, especially marijuana and prescription drugs. The superintendent and the Board of Education are on board with this.”
The situation was the result of a student coming to McHugh and saying there had been what appeared like a drug deal in the hallway.
“We separated the two boys and talked to them, then immediately called state police,” McHugh said.
“As a result of the investigation, we discovered two other students involved in drugs as well. All four were suspended.”
The school disciplinary grid mandates suspensions of one to five days for drug infractions. McHugh could not identify the students, but said one of them was not yet 16 years old.
Trooper Maureen Tuffey, public information for State Police Troop G, said Monday she had information on one charge from an arrest at the high school. Donald J. Gorton, 18, of Whitehall, was charged with two counts of possession of marijuana.
Sources in the school said that Gorton was not one of the students removed from the school in handcuffs. Tuffey said it is possible there could be other charges that have not yet been released.
The principal said the students admitted to the drug deal and “that led to many, many more conversations and dialogues,” she said. “The entire day was consumed in trying to figure out what to do.”
McHugh said she appreciated the student who reported the incident and noted that the school has been doing a great deal of work on the drug issues, including having State Police Investigator Sam Mercado speak to all students and faculty in December. She said there is another constituency that needs to be addressed.
We need to get to the parents,” she said. “Those families that don’t do drugs or don’t know anyone who does drugs, think no one does it,” she said. “Those who do drugs, think everyone does them.”
McHugh held a faculty meeting that afternoon and said students – who took exams Wednesday and Thursday – seemed subdued for the rest of the week.
Village Police Chief Matthew Dickinson agrees with McHugh that drugs are an issue in Whitehall, and he says the responsibility begins with the parents.
“My concern is that parents are giving their children and excess of freedom, and that is what is allowing these kinds of behaviors to occur.
“Parents are the number one problem, they do not know these things are going on. Parents who do know any information should step forward and not keep it a secret.”
Dickinson said technology is playing a major role and advised that parents should have firm rules about the use of cell phones and texting.
“Before cell phones and computers, it was a lot harder to set up something like this. You had to find the person or call them on a telephone,” he said. “Not you just send them a text, and it happens. The cell phone makes access much easier.
“I do believe that giving a child a cell phone leads kids to have to make adult decisions,” he said.
“I look at texting as an adult toy. You wouldn’t give a 12-year-old a car. There’s no difference with a cell phone. It’s a great tool, no doubt, but they need to be policed at home.”
Dickinson, who is a father, says parents need to be more vigilant.
“The parents take the easy way out, and this is what happens,” he said. “You need to know where you kids are at 9 p.m. That has everything to do with it.”