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Nichols talks drugs at FHS

Parents who delay counseling their children until teenaged years on possible tragedies arising from drinking alcohol already have waited too late, Knox County Attorney General Randy Nichols warned parents at a recent Farragut High School’s PTSO open house.

Nichols, speaking Thursday, Jan. 26, to several hundred parents, teachers and students, said even conscientious parents often mistakenly consider illegal drug use to be the main culprit to watch for among active teenagers.

“But far and away, the biggest problem in our schools is alcohol,” Nichols said. Illegal drugs ranks third among substance abuse problems with Knox County students, he said, well behind alcohol and abusing prescription medications.

Nichols said a recent Metropolitan Drug Commis-sion substance abuse survey among Knox County pupils “scared us out of our socks” by revealing that pupils’ alcohol abuse began at an average age of 10.4 years, even younger than the 11-year national average.

Nichols said, “I’m the guy who gets to cry with the grieving mother” because her daughter, who died in an alcohol-related accident, “is not coming back home.”

The survey revealed that 64 percent of underage drinkers consume alcohol obtained from home. Nichols asked parents’ help in monitoring their children closely and counseling with them to avert alcohol-related tragedies.

“This is a problem we can forcefully attack,” the county’s chief legal officer said. “We can deal with it right in our homes.”

Nichols urged parents to “hug your kids” when they come home from school activities, to show affection and to detect any telltale odors of alcohol.

“ If we can make things safer,” he added, “then I won’t have to talk to some parent whose heart’s been ripped out” by the senseless death of their child.

Nichols said recent Tennessee Supreme Court decisions “changed the law one hundred and eighty degrees” about parent liability for cases in which death or serious injuries result from underage drinking.

In 2005, he said, the court upheld a jury’s finding of liability for a Williamson County father who unknowingly had allowed alcohol among young, uninvited guests at his daughter’s party. A jury found the father liable for 15 percent of a $4 million award to a girl, paralyzed in an alcohol-related traffic accident one mile from the party.

“It’s a new day in Tennessee,” Nichols warned. “You need to know it’s against the law to let minors use alcohol. No exceptions.”

Nichols said Tennessee students who do well in high school are eligible for Hope college scholarships funded through the Tennessee state lottery. But he said students with alcohol-related offenses no longer are eligible for scholarships” worth $4,000 a year.

“That’s like a sixteen thousand dollar fine before you get to court,” he said.

Nichols asked Knox County parents and teachers to “pledge with me we’ll combat underage drinking in Knox County.” FHS Principal Michael Reynolds agreed.

“I don’t know how many lives can be saved,” Reynolds said. “But I do know about the ones who don’t make it. I want our students to have the chance to grow up and become leaders.”

Marilyn Pharr, the mother of a 2004 FHS graduate and a junior at the school, said she considered Nichols’ speech a strong statement warning all Knox parents against complacency where alcohol was involved.

“It’s a concern of public officials to make parents aware of the problems,” said Pharr, noting that FHS students had been involved with recent alcohol-related tragedies.

“I think Mr. Nichols got through to us Thursday,” she said.

The Farragut PTSO presented its annual Fleet Award to Jerry Parkerson of TDS Telecom for contributing his funding and efforts to various Farragut High School programs. PTSO Past President Jocelyn Brodd said Parkerson and TDS Telecom employees had donated $100,000 in cash, materials and manpower to FHS and its Education Foundation since 1995.

Parkerson, Brodd said, had funded school technical labs for $25,000, has provided FHS students several $1,000 cash scholarships each year, has served on many FHS boards and committees and has supported Adopt-a-School, Project Graduation activities and other school



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