School Committee members discussed prevention, education and resources for substance abuse and addiction during Monday’s School Committee meeting at Everett High School.
School Committee Vice Chairperson Michael McLaughlin, who represents Ward 6, asked at what grade level is substance abuse addressed in the classroom. “The skills begin in kindergarten, and students are taught to make good decisions and take healthy risks,” the district’s Health and Wellness Coordinator, Julie Ann Whitson, said.
The district addresses tobacco use in elementary school, and at the middle school level, they talk about substances. Everything is age appropriate, according to Whitson.
McLaughlin said that’s an age group that can easily be influenced.
School Committee member Samantha Lambert asked if there is an explicit space if drugs are found in the building. The district’s Socio-Emotional Learning Director, Dr. Brian Wallace, said he doesn’t know if there are explicit protocols. “Teachers know their students well,” Wallace said. “They’d go to guidance first and potentially involve a clinician.”
She suggested having a decision tree to support staff and caregivers.
Wallace said there’s a protocol for more concerning behaviors, including tier II and tier III, that they haven’t 100 percent defined for that smaller population of students, who are requiring that support.
“Sometimes tier I is preventive,” Lambert said.
Wallace said best practices is the focus to identify authentic tier I relations.
Lambert said she feels like youths, for the most part, are honest and open, especially in surveys.
Ward 1 School Committee member Millie Cardello said one of the things she’s seen since the pandemic is the explosion of emotions, including crying, sadness and depression. “Three years ago, we wouldn’t have had this,” Cardello said. “The district has done a remarkable job.” She thanked Eliot for their assistance.
Cardello asked if they’re doing anything as a district to prevent drugs from entering the schools. Whitson said that in the past they’ve had State Police dogs search the building several times a year, but that they haven’t had them since the COVID-19 pandemic. There is security in the building currently.
School Committee member at-large Cynthia Sarnie asked if they can drug test if they have a suspicion. Wallace said that would be the parents’ decision.
Sarnie said her older daughter struggled with addiction, adding that neither she nor her teachers knew until years later. “Once they start, it’s a very hard battle for the rest of their lives to come out of it,” Sarnie said. “Education at a young age not to take a pill, even if it’s there, is important.”
Sarnie asked if they could continue with Eliot after graduation. Wallace said he believes they can since it’s a community service organization.
Ward 4 School Committee member Michael Mangan said it was a great presentation. Like McLaughlin, he asked once they’re done with the health assessment if they could forward that to them. “I would request maybe the first or second week in January to have someone from Eliot come up here so we can ask them questions,” Mangan said. “How do you recognize something that is hidden?”
Ward 2 School Committee member Jason Marcus said if they’re going to get high, they usually go to the bathrooms. “Can we get kids that look like police officers and keep an eye out?” Marcus said.
Wallace deferred that to the central office.
Lambert asked about emotional response. Whitson said they collect sheets, asking students how they are feeling after the presentation. “We always tell students ahead of time what we’ll be discussing,” Whitson said. “It’s important that they’re not blindsided.”