The number of students tested positive for drugs in the Paterson Public Schools reached an “alarming” 16-year high in 2015-16 school year, according to a report presented to the Board of Education on Wednesday evening.
153 students were tested positive for marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, vape pens, codeine, and other substances in the 2015-16 school year. This is a 25-percent increase from the 2014-15 school year when 109 students were tested positive for drugs, according to the report.
“We had the highest this year,” said Kathy Lepore, supervisor of substance awareness programs at the Paterson Public Schools.
The numbers shocked some school board members. “The numbers are very alarming,” said board member Lilisa Mimms. She wanted to know the root causes that are pushing up the numbers.
One cause is the reduced number of substance abuse counselors (SACs). The number of SACs in the district dropped from 24 in 2009-10 to 11. Mimms asked Lepore whether one of the root causes of the increase is due to the lack of SACs in the district.
“Yes,” replied Lepore. “We do the best we can with the 11 people.” She said some SACs cover four different schools. The high schools, where majority of the cases stem from, each have a single SAC, she said.
The School of Government and Public Administration (GOPA) at Eastside High School had more positive cases than any other school in the district. It had 22 students who tested positive for having drugs in their system, according to the report. The second highest was 17 at the Silk City Academy, an alternative school. John F. Kennedy High School’s School of Architecture and Construction Trades (ACT) came in third with 15 positives.
Jonathan Hodges, board member, asked about repeat abusers.
“We don’t see as many; we do have a few,” said Lepore. She said when a student is tested positive for drugs a 45-minute meeting occurs between the district’s licensed clinician, the student and their parents.
The meeting allows the school to know about the student’s lifestyle. Student is provided counseling at the school or is referred to an afterschool program or an inpatient treatment program. The SAC follows up with the student to determine outcome.
Hodges said too many repeat abusers would suggest the district’s program is ineffective. With the heroin epidemic raging in the streets, Hodges asked, “Are you seeing an increase in heroin use?”
Lepore replied in the negative. She said heroin is more common in schools with higher concentration of white students. Paterson students are mostly black and Hispanic.
Lepore’s presentation listed a number of initiatives the district has to discourage drug use. There are school sponsored activities where speakers address students about drunk driving, gambling, substance abuse, tobacco use, drug use, recovery, and refusal skills.
There are also classroom lessons that discourage drug use, gang activity, and violence.