The start of a new school year is usually an exciting time for parents and students. However, for many in Clovis Unified School District, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Parents like David Mata are nervous that their kids will not only contribute to the growing opioid epidemic, but possibly die as well..
Overdose Deaths Tripled In Past 20 Years
According to a study published in JAMA Network in December 2018, the rate of overdose deaths among teens has tripled in the past 20 years.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the equivalent of two school buses filled to capacity die from the opioid epidemic each day in the U.S.
Flindt Anderson, the founder and president of Parents & Addicts In Need (PAIN), a nonprofit organization in Fresno County that specializes in rehabilitation services and support for the substance user and their family, said parents need to start having conversations with their kids about the dangers of opioids and other drugs as early as age 12.
An alarming statistic, Anderson said, is that 93 percent of PAIN’s clients went to Clovis Unified School District schools.
“We’ve seen 12, 13 and 14-year olds in our office that parents have brought in that are not addicted to a substance yet, but they definitely have experimented with those substances,” Anderson said at a town hall Wednesday, Aug. 14 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.
Although Mata has had numerous talks with his daughters about saying no to drugs, he is still worried.
“My oldest is going to go back into her senior year, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m nervous because I know that there are a lot of kids out there who have this stuff [drugs] in their backpacks and pass it out like candy,” said Mata, who has had his struggles with drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens in the past. “I also have a younger daughter who is just starting at Clark [Intermediate School], and that’s where it all starts so I am concerned for her as well.”
Thinking Outside The Box
Mata said he would like the district to start thinking outside the box to lessen the problem, such as looking into administering random drug tests and randomly checking lockers and backpacks.
“I just think it is something that needs to be considered, especially since it is obviously an epidemic,” Mata said. “As a parent, I wouldn’t get mad if it is going to save my kid’s life and other kids’ life.”
Rehabilitate Over Discipline
A senior at Buchanan High School, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her privacy, said the best thing the district can do is help to rehabilitate students who are having issues with drugs rather than disciplining them.
“I know somebody who attempted suicide with one of the drugs that is illegal and the school expelled her because of the drug,” she said. “They didn’t attempt to bring action to depression or anxiety or anything like that, which I think is really important because it gives students someone to reach out to and have that connection.”
District Is Listening To Parent Concerns
David Weber, a lead psychologist with Clovis Unified, said the district has been and continues to listen to the concerns of students and parents, especially for this upcoming school year.
In addition to psychologists and counselors, every one of the district’s middle schools and high schools will have access to a mental health support provider five days a week instead of two, which was the case last year.
Those resources, Weber said, are for students who struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts, among many other issues.
Jonathan Logan, also a lead psychologist for the district, said this year Clovis Unified will also have therapists from the Fresno County Behavioral Health and therapists from comprehensive youth services.
That’s in addition to several services the district already provides, such as Clovis Support & Intervention Student Support Groups, Crisis Response, and Suicide Awareness & Prevention trainings, among many others.
One Goal: Promote Wellness
“Promoting wellness is the main goal of all of the services”, Weber said.
“What we have found is that if we can promote wellness in our students, we can impact their lives more significantly in terms of suicide prevention, in terms of limiting drug use, and just promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Weber said.
For Logan, educating students on how to avoid the pitfalls of drug addiction and finding ways to intervene when they are down and out is critical in helping them stay on the right path.
“Getting that early intervention as soon as possible to kind of redirect the path a little bit and make it so it is a healthier person, a healthier district, a healthier county, and a healthier community is what we are working on,” Logan said.
Working Together Is Key
However, the most important factor in fixing the drug issue in Clovis Unified is parents and the school community working together, Weber said.
“We want an involved community and we want involved parents because we can’t do it alone,” he said. “It takes all of us working together.”
Jil Wilson, an alumna of Clovis Unified, said if she had a stronger communication base, she believes her drug use would not have gotten out of control.
“I never went home and said, ‘hey, I need help,’ or, ‘hey, I am struggling with this,’” Wilson said. “Those conversations didn’t happen, and the less that I talked about it, the more that I used.”
What About School Threats and Shootings
The district is also working hard to address other problems for the upcoming school year such as threats and school shootings.
In addition to annual, district-wide trainings on what to do if there is a threat, Weber said individual schools conduct safety drills throughout the school year to ensure students and teachers are alert.
Weber said Clovis Unified also started a district crisis response team to deal with a major crisis such as a school threat or shooting.
“The team is made up of about 40 to 50 individuals throughout the district that all have specific roles and we come together and address whatever that crisis situation is,” Weber said.
Additionally, the district integrates school safety into events such as back to school night and open house, Weber said.
“If there is some opportunity to interact with parents and kids, we definitely try to include that,” he said.