MADISON, NJ – Substance abuse issues continue to dominate Board of Education meetings in Madison.

The latest wrinkle is a survey proposed by the Madison Chatham Coalition. Lisbeth Bringgaard, coordinator of the Madison Health Department, suggested a survey in conjunction with Chatham. A grant is available for $35,000, with application needed by March 17. Once evidence is collected, the survey could be extended for five years at $125,000.

“Morris County has a high incidence of overdose cases,” Bringgaard said.  Of coordinating with Chatham High School, she said, “Our kids go to sports together, go to parties together. Our objective is to discover what are the real problems in the town?”  

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“It’s a very positive move,” Board member Shade Grahling said.  “Our kids go back and forth.”  She said perspective could be gained through combined efforts.

“The main purpose is to create and implement a strategy,” Nick Dominique, Director of Outreach for Community Services in Ohio, said of his work with Morris County and alliances. Analysis and recommendations are part of the proposal. The idea is to develop combined efforts with police, parents, students and health care professionals.

“Students can opt out,” Grahling said. Every student must respond, she explained, but they can decline or accept.

Board member Leslie Lajewski said that the data becomes the property of the coalition. “It can be destroyed. They would not sell the data or give it out,” she said.  The survey, she said, would be a snapshot, breaking down by gender.  

“We would need to collect consent forms,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi said. “We’ll check it out and get the word out.”

Although the process is a sizable investment, the funds can be used for preventive measures, according to Bringgaard.  There are parameters to the survey, she said. “Local problems require local solutions.”

In another matter, two parents inquired about the Bring Your Parents to Lunch Day and how it would be handled. “There’s a lot of confusion,” one parent said. “Is there a system? How will the committee be picked?”

This event would take place in April, board member Debra Cohen said and would probably be limited to the elementary schools. She said it wouldn’t necessarily be on one day, but could stretch into a week or two to better coordinate schedules.

An advisory committee would consist of two or three parents, a representative from the cafeteria food service and two or three students.

The discussion also touched on the Garden Club at Central Avenue School.  The parents said they would like to see the vegetables grown there put on plates rather than being served in containers. “We have this beautiful garden, these beautiful vegetables,” one person said.  And that led to a discussion on food allergies and how the staff must be alert to those issues.

Finally, David Steketee, who had come to the previous meeting to address the drug issue, spoke up.  He had said the use of canines and other steps could be unconstitutional.  He noted the balance between privacy and security.  He was concerned, he said, about how parents perceive what the school is doing. “Just consider how you administer the policy,” he said.

Rossi said when substance abuse is discovered, a parent invariably says, ‘you’re targeting my kid.’ But he pointed out it’s important to stop substance abuse before it becomes an epidemic.

Lajewski emphasized the latest approach had been thoroughly thought out. “It’s all about trying to take care of the kids,” she said.  “We’ve been trying different programs.  The rehabilitative component is to help the kid out of the box.”