A Vernon grad tradition has educators and RCMP alike worried about the outcome.
“The tradition here is that the kids have a big bush party on the day before school starts,” said Doug Rogers, substance abuse prevention counsellor for the Vernon School District.
“I was shocked because the kids would come to school hungover, some still drunk, with nonsense written all over them.”
One main concern is the message that it sends to the younger students when they see Grade 12s, who should be their role models, showing up to school in that state. It reinforces the tradition and its normalcy, says Rogers.
“The school district is doing a good job at saying ‘don’t send your kids to school like that.’ They’ll get sent home, or possibly suspended,” he said.
Rogers, originally from the Lower Mainland, was amazed by the level of acceptance of this kind of occurrence, which he calls a “sacred cow,” when he first moved to Vernon.
Admittedly, the parents are in a very difficult situation said Rogers. But he says it is important for them to educate themselves about the reality of the situation their children are in.
“We really want to raise the IQ of the parents,” said Rogers. “Your kids are making poor choices.”
“It’s very hard for kids to make the choice not to go,” said Seaton Secondary guidance counselor Naomi Erickson. “It’s hard for parents too. I mean, if the kids want to go, they’ll find a way to go. I guess they figure if they drive the kids themselves at least they’ll be safe.”
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case says Rogers, since drinking and driving is not the only risk. Kids could still get alcohol poisoning, and nothing is keeping them safe from each other while they are there.
He is worried about incidents that have occurred in other towns at parties such as this one.
“It was only in June when a boy in Penticton got stabbed at one of these parties,” he said. And there was also a very disturbing case of a sexual assault in Pitt Meadows last year.
“These things do happen. And more importantly, they could easily happen here,” said Rogers.
“I’m most likely not going,” said one student, entering Grade 12 this year. “There are so many risks. It’s scary, especially if adults don’t even know where it is.”
“I feel like such a loser if I don’t go,” said another Grade 12 student. “I’m going to go, but I’m not going to drink. I don’t want people drinking and driving.”
In a letter sent home to parents of graduates attending Fulton, principal Malcolm Ried cautioned about more than just drinking and driving.
“These parties will inevitably involve drugs, alcohol, drinking and driving, fighting, excessively large bonfires and car accidents. They end up being bush parties attended by students from all Vernon schools as well as many adults as old as their late 20s,” the letter read.
In recent years the popularity of Facebook has added to the widening of the guest list said Rogers.
“All these people have to do is know someone who knows someone who knows someone, and they show up at these parties. It’s all on Facebook,” he said.
The ease at which students talk to each other en masse makes it easy to change plans quickly.
“If the cops are on to us, they just change the location,” said the Grade 12 student who is part of a grad party Facebook group.
With every grad class trying to outdo their predecessor, the phrase “Let’s make history” is coming up often, she said.
“It’s scary, trying to outdo other groups. It’s like, ‘who can be the stupidest?’”
And RCMP and school administrators are worried they will make history for the wrong reasons.
And despite popular belief, the RCMP will not be on hand to make sure nothing goes wrong.
“Unless somebody tips us off we don’t know where the party is,” said RCMP school liaison officer Kathy Szoboticsanec. “We can’t be everywhere.”
Depending on the staffing level on the night of a given party, and provided they are aware of the party’s location, RCMP will try to step up their enforcement, possibly with a road block where they will confiscate alcohol and watch for drunk drivers.
But it is unlikely that they will be able to monitor what is going on at the actual party, or control who is going.
The only way to keep safe is to stay close with a group of friends said Szoboticsanec.
“Band together and don’t leave each other in a vulnerable position.”