Vineyard schools will screen students to identify drug abuse early

The All-Island School Committee approved splitting the director of student support services position into two. — Michael Cummo

In early March, Governor Charlie Baker signed an Opioid Bill into law that provides grant money to fund drug-screening programs in state schools. Beginning in the new school year, all Island seventh and tenth grade students will be screened for alcohol or drug use.

The screening is verbal, involving a question and answer session with a school counselor or nurse, and will be completely confidential. A student or a student’s parent can choose to have the child opt out of the screening. Contingent upon continued funding, the screening will be mandated by the state starting in the 2017-18 school year.

“We also need to update our substance abuse policy,” Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea said at a meeting of the Up-Island School Committee Monday. “Which we will be doing.”

Monday night, Theresa Manning, Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force coalition coordinator, suggested the school committees work with the task force in addressing substance abuse among youth. The group conducts a youth risk-behavior survey of students in seventh through twelfth grade every two years.

“We hear about opioids and things like that in the community, but in our preliminary screenings, there’s not a lot of youth use of that,” she said. “We also ask about their perception of what kids are using, and a lot of times when there’s a lot of information in the community about particular drugs and things, they think a lot more kids are using than actually are using. It’s important to inform kids about what is happening, so they can make better choices.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, will assist schools with guidance and recommendations for implementing effective substance-use prevention and abuse-education policies.

Additionally, driver education courses will now include a module on the science related to addiction and addictive substances, including impacts on the brain, especially while operating a motor vehicle.