Up-Island Regional School District committee hears of revived health ed. policy

Skip Manter, Michael Marcus, and Theresa Manning of the Up-Island Regional School Committee.

At their Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting, the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) committee got a second reading of a policy that restricts which prescription drugs students can have in school with them. Asthma sufferers are permitted to have inhalers; diabetics may have insulin delivery devices; EpiPens are to be available to those with allergies; and enzyme supplements are allowed for those with “other conditions.”

“If [the medicine] is not with the student,” said Chilmark School nurse Janice Brown, “it should be in an unlocked, accessible location. This policy insures that in an emergency nurses and other staff members can get to the medicine.”

This policy was part of an effort to refocus the schools’ attention on substance abuse. While drug education has never entirely been off the agenda, it has lately competed with other priorities.

“The focus on MCAS, standards, and other things took attention away from substance abuse education,” said Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea. “It is now done in a lot of different ways.” Mr. D’Andrea said he had recently held a meeting to get input from many parties within the school system, and would soon be having a “cabinet meeting” with school principals about bringing the subject back to the fore.

Committee chairman Michael Marcus was looking for a “drug czar” to head up the effort, and assistant superintendent Richie Smith volunteered for the position. Smith said that where health teachers were present — Edgartown, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs — they do much of the drug education. But in the West Tisbury School, the job is split up among several teachers. Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, principal of the West Tisbury School, defended the approach. “It’s embedded in the rest of the curriculum,” she said. “A health teacher alone can’t do what we want for our kids.”

Mr. Smith said youth groups could be involved going forward because they are Island-wide, “where the effort should be.”

Mr. D’Andrea described the educational process as “building up the students,” that helping them develop strong identities and values would help them resist the pull of drug use. He said that drug use was trending downward among students.

“Except marijuana,” committee vice chairman Theresa Manning said.

Mr. Marcus predicted that illegal drug use would be a big problem in years to come, and described himself as remiss for not jumping on the issue sooner.