BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The specter of drug abuse, and the school district’s methods for combating it, was discussed by parents at the most recent meeting of the Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education.
Parents Holly Lange and Lisa Mantz spoke during the second public portion of that meeting, and asked what the Bridgewater-Raritan district is doing to not only eliminate drugs, but also to educate the community about their presence.
“It’s quite severe,” said Lange, who then asked if the board has any plans in the works.
Board president Jill Gladstone said that the district’s health curriculum addresses substance abuse, and also said that there is a district Health and Wellness Action Team in place for that purpose.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner asked if there is an opportunity to add Lange and Mantz to the action team, but Lange interjected that the issue is too important to wait upon scheduled meeting dates, and said that there have already been deaths in the area from drug abuse.
Lange mentioned Mike Reilly, owner of Hillsborough Funeral Home, whom she said used to be her neighbor. Reilly has said online in recent years that he was tired of burying Hillsborough youths who had died due to drugs, she said, and that he wanted his local school board and parents to stop the drug epidemic.
“I really think the blinders are on,” said Lange. “What can we do now, to open the eyes of the public?”
She added that assemblies are needed as soon as possible, and related a story about heroin abuse in Bridgewater-Raritan. She told the board that there was a student who would not use the restrooms at the high school because there were other students in there who tried to force drugs on others.
Lange also pointed out how the district places wrecked vehicles in public view around prom time, to educate students about the potentially deadly consequences of drinking and driving. She suggested putting up tombstones in a similar fashion, regarding drug abuse, with black-colored grave markers prospectively representing fatalities.
“It would get attention, in your face like that,” said Lange of such a showcase. “People would pay attention and take action.”
Mantz said that she had served as a nurse for about 20 years, and had had to perform body searches, during which she sometimes discovered drugs. Those searches including discovering heroin.
“I think Bridgewater can do more,” she said, with regard to educating parents and students about drugs and drug abuse.
Mantz also said that she would like to serve on the action team for that purpose, and also mentioned that Bridgewater ranked with the likes of Cherry Hill, Newark City and West Orange regarding the number of drug abuse incidents reported to the state in the past year.
“It is a big problem,” she said.
She said that incidents in Bridgewater have increased fourfold in the last several years, while those in Bloomfield in Essex County have decreased by nine times over the past three years. She also said that Camden has gone down from 24 reported incidents to just one.
Mantz said that that she had spoken to the Bridgewater police and the mayor about the situation, and has received a great deal of feedback.
“We’re all in agreement with you,” said Gladstone. “More needs to be done.”
Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick said that principals need to be more aware about the drug situation, and said that they may not have known about some incidents if they were not reported. He added that student welfare is of most importance.
Lazovick also said the district has a full curriculum and assemblies on the matter, and that there is also a district-wide initiative in the form of the action team for both immediate and long-term intervention.
“It’s a state, national and county issue,” he said.