MVHS students protest alcohol at PTA function
Mill Valley High School students had a message Saturday for parents headed to an adults-only PTA auction that would sell alcohol.
"Adult behavior sets standards for youth," one sign read.
The auction was put on by the Prairie Ridge Elementary School PTA at the Shawnee Civic Centre, and included a cash bar.
This marked the first time the annual fundraiser included alcohol and therefore excluded Prairie Ridge students from attending. Last year, the event raised $14,000. Saturday the PTA raised $17,500.
Most of the students protesting were members of JagPRIDE, a student-led organization that addresses substance abuse in the community. It's name stands for "Pride in community, school, family and self."
Junior Erika Wheeler said she decided to protest the event because it is sending the wrong message to children.
"I believe that parents have great influences on the choices children have later in life," she said. "This sends the message that the only way to have fun and they only way to attract adults is to have alcohol and that's the wrong message to send."
Comments made on shawneedispatch.com, questioned why the PTA was criticized for serving alcohol at its auction when alcohol is served at Moe's Southwest Grill and at Pizza Shoppe where there are PTA fundraiser nights.
However, Erika said there was a difference between the PTA auction and those fundraiser nights.
"It's a restaurant that serves alcohol any day of the week," she said. "They chose to have a cash bar here. You can't restrict people on what they drink when alcohol is available at a restaurant."
About 20 students protested Saturday and distributed fliers with facts about underage drinking along with a letter signed by the superintendent, school board president and JagPRIDE members.
The letter to district patrons, which Superintendent Sharon Zoellner wrote, informed parents that students and district administrators asked that the fundraiser be held without the presence of alcohol.
"It is our hope that we can create a community norm, demonstrating to our young people, that adults can have a good time without having alcohol present at a function," the letter said.
Zoellner was present at Saturday's protest, although she was not participating.
"I think part of growing up is learning how to share your concerns about an issue," she said. "I wanted to be here this evening to support these students and the positive manner in which they've shared their concerns over this issue."
Last week, the district said it had no stance on the issue because the PTA is an outside organization.
However, board president Janine Gracy said she did not approve of serving alcohol at school fundraisers and said she wanted to do research to see if the board could take any action to prevent future fundraisers that would serve alcohol.
"What's done is done," she said. "That function is over, but what we can do is look toward upcoming functions."
Gracy compared accepting money for schools from a PTA event where alcohol was served to accepting money for drug and alcohol prevention from tobacco or alcohol companies.
"I am just amazed at the attitude - that there are some community members who don't see that this is a problem at all," Gracy said.
Daryl Cafferty, whose fifth-grader attends Prairie Ridge, attended the auction Saturday. Cafferty said he doesn't understand why serving alcohol sparked such a divide in the community.
"What's the difference between having it her and having it at Chili's or something like that," he questioned. "I don't think it's a big deal to have alcohol. If this was at the school, it would be a big deal having it with alcohol, but it's not at the school."
Some parents attended the fundraiser even though they disagreed with serving alcohol at a PTA event.
"If I had gone to the PTA meeting I would have gone against it, but I still want to support the school," said Paul Miller, whose kindergartner attends Prairie Ridge. He and his wife, Andrea Miller, said they were impressed with the way the Mill Valley students expressed their opinions on the issue.
"We do not plan on drinking," Andrea Miller said.
Prairie Ridge media specialist Katy Konovalske said she didn't have an opinion on the alcohol issue, but she said she wanted to support the PTA.
"When my children were in elementary school I was on the PTA and I know how hard these parents work to pull this together," she said.