Thursday, December 12, 2019
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Md. county hits the opioid crisis head-on

David Cox, superintendent of schools in Allegany County in Western Maryland, a district of about 74,000 students and a very high historic attendance record, somewhere north of 95 percent, talked with Education Week about the opioid crisis not only in his school district but across the nation.

School employees known as pupil personnel workers, or PPWs, were sent out to conduct home visits for students who had been absent a lot. Principals started noticing, he said, a link between a rise in absenteeism and tardiness and parental opioid addiction. Parents were just getting out of bed too late and couldn’t bring their kids to school until way after the first bell or even at all.

He gives a lot of credit to empathetic teachers, supportive school counselors and principals, and local and state agencies. They have in many cases stepped up or in to help kids work through their parents’ addiction to the dangerous drugs. A number of parents in the district, however, have died in recent years due to overdoses.

“In many cases, because of that, [children] have to live with somebody else, and in many cases that’s with grandparents,” Education Week quoted him as saying. “We have an elementary-age student who is being raised by an 85-year-old great-grandmother. In many cases, they were living with just one parent, not with two parents. A lot of kids are in the foster system. And that means in some cases they had to change schools.”

Besides absenteeism, one of the signs of opioid abuse in the home, he said, is that preschool-age children would come to school with severe behavioral issues and require more behavioral specialists than schools have on staff. But every school principal in Allegany County can point to kids who came in with those issues and, since being in a good program at the school, have become more thriving members of the school community.

Mr Cox also sent appreciation to Gov Larry Hogan, of Maryland, and his administration for reaching out, not only to provide funds that can address the opioid epidemic in schools and communities but to educate people about it. More specific help would also be nice, though.

“We need more funding, yes,” he was quoted as saying. “We need the flexibility [in Title IV funds], but we also need more funding: Special ed, or IDEA, is not fully funded by the government, but the number of children who require special services is increasing as a result of [opioid addiction]. I am very concerned about the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Congress has not yet reauthorized it. That has historically been a bipartisan effort to provide health insurance for our poorest children in my district. And, certainly, any cuts to Medicaid would be further devastating.”

Many of these cuts are coming with the new budget, once Congress and President Donald Trump get tax reform through. Although Mr Cox said he was happy the president had declared the opioid crisis a national emergency, he pleaded with the federal government to back that up with the additional funding required, especially in funding the block grants under Title IV (Part A: student support and academic enrichment).

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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