Arlington schools considering security, communication changes after apparent overdose

Arlington Public Schools in Virginia is considering additional cameras and making Narcan more widely available in schools, after parents, students and community members urged the school system for greater transparency and action.

At a work session about opioids and substances Tuesday night, school board members were briefed on how to use Narcan and inquired about how to address a rise in youth overdoses in the county.

The session came days after a student’s apparent overdose at Wakefield High School. The student, identified as Sergio Flores, later died. It was the fourth juvenile overdose in Arlington so far this year. In 2022, there were eight.

On Friday, parents and students gathered outside the school to call for more security and additional school safety measures.

“The school board acknowledges that our community is being faced with challenges, many challenges, including the need to address the increased use of opioids that is affecting our youth,” board chairman Reid Goldstein said. “We concur with our superintendent that combating this issue requires a communitywide response that comprises home, school and public efforts.”

The school board, Goldstein said, has also advised Superintendent Francisco Duran “to pursue every avenue to address safety and security issues at the schools by providing proposals to the board for funding consideration.”

At the work session, Jenny Sexton, a county substance abuse counselor, demonstrated how to use Narcan and noted there’s a pivotal nine-minute window to issue the medication that can potentially reverse an overdose.

The school system receives Narcan for free from the Virginia Department of Health and is looking at expanding access to the drug. Los Angeles Unified School District, Duran said, is the only school system in the country that currently provides Narcan to all students to carry.

In 2022, Sexton said the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 160,000 counterfeit pills in Virginia. The most common counterfeit pill are tablets that look just like a 30 milligram dose of Percocet, she said.

“A lot of these transactions are happening via social media,” Sexton said. “They’re using emojis to actually make the transaction so that the parents don’t necessarily know what type of transaction is happening.”

After a meeting with principals, the school system is also reviewing some of its security measures, specifically regarding cameras.

Board Vice Chair Cristina Diaz-Torres said she’s been told cameras in some schools have blind spots, “and so students are engaging in reckless behavior, in exchanges and in sales, or in acts of aggression and physical violence, where they know that the cameras are not looking.”

County officials started visiting schools last week to review camera placement and positioning and are working with school staff to see whether additional cameras need to be purchased, John Mayo, the school system’s chief operating officer, said.

The school system should also consider additional mental health resources, board member Mary Kadera said, because “some number of our students, just like adults, abuse substances because they are self-medicating, because there are mental health concerns, depression, anxiety, other kinds of things manifesting.”

When communicating to parents and community members about events at schools, Duran said Tuesday that the county “has not been as clear in some cases where we’ve had more information we could have shared.”

In a letter to families Wednesday afternoon, Duran said all future messages regarding school safety “will include the nature of the threat in as much detail as we are able.” However, he said, in cases of medical emergencies, student discipline and threats of violence under active police investigation, detailed information cannot be shared.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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