Online Pictures Showed Drinking By ETHS Students

Joyce Lee

By Joyce LeeThe Daily Northwestern

Parents and police now have a new ally in the battle against underage drinking – Facebook.com.

Images posted on the popular online social network implicated almost two dozen Evanston Township High School students, setting off a chain of events that eventually forced more than 40 students to attend a December and January Students Under the Influence program.

After discovering his son’s Facebook photos documenting drinking at an Oct. 28 party in Evanston, a troubled parent handed over the images to Evanston police. A DVD containing 73 photos was shared with ETHS administrators, who identified 22 student athletes present at the party.

A later police report revealed that 12 more ETHS students attended a Nov. 17 drinking party, which police broke up on the 1800 block of Ridge Avenue.

Ultimately, school administrators determined 46 sophomore athletes were in violation of the school’s Extracurricular Code, which prohibits underage drinking for the entire student population.

“When it first happened, kids were scared and took down a lot of incriminating photographs. People always know that things like this can happen, but they need to see that there are consequences before they learn,” ETHS senior Jacob Melczer said.

The code applies to ETHS students both on and off school property, at all hours. An infraction can be considered as use or distribution of alcohol, as well as “attendance at a gathering where there is a verified report of drinking … and the student did not self-report,” according to the district’s Web site.

“The decision wasn’t too harsh,” said Athletic Director Chris Livatino on the arrangement to make program attendance for all 46 sophomores mandatory. “There were no suspensions for playing time or time away from their sport.”

The Students Under the Influence Program is run by PEER Services, Inc., a community program that teaches adolescents about the physiological effects of alcohol and provides an open forum to discuss peer pressure and decision-making. The identified students each attended one group session, either in late December or early January, and completed a one-on-one exit interview with a PEER Services staff member.

“It really wasn’t a punishment, to be perfectly honest,” Livatino said. “It was actually giving them an additional resource so they don’t have to make poor decisions in the future.”

None of the students denied involvement, but if they had refused to undergo the Students Under the Influence program, they would be banned from practice and competition for 10 consecutive days at the beginning of the new season.

“Maybe now (ETHS students) will be more careful, but almost everybody has an album with pictures of them drinking,” ETHS senior Jacob Novar said.

Although some parents protested the use of Facebook photos to implicate their sons and daughters, Livatino sticks by the decision.

“Kids make mistakes and rather than be punitive initially, we give them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes,” Livatino said.

The ETHS community’s stern response to adolescents drinking outside school hours highlights the much-publicized issue of underage drinking in Evanston and across the nation.

“The ETHS motto is drink as much as you can, as fast as you can, as frequently as you can,” said Novar. “In every single social group there is underage drinking going on. With no exceptions.”

Reach Joyce Lee at [email protected]