Dozens of parents, students and community members convened at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, Friday afternoon, calling for additional security measures after a suspected overdose at the school earlier this week.
Participants took a lap around the outside of the school’s campus, chanting things like “we are here for the children” in English and Spanish. They held signs urging Arlington Public Schools to consider additional security measures and vowed support for students in the community.
The march, organized by the Arlington Schools Hispanic Parents Association, came days after the apparent overdose. Student Sergio Flores died in the incident.
It marks the fourth juvenile overdose in Arlington so far this year, according to county police data obtained by WTOP via a Freedom of Information Act request. In 2022, there were eight juvenile overdoses in the county.
The rise in youth overdoses has school systems across the D.C. region on high alert. School officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, sounded the alarm after a student died of an overdose last month.
“It’s going to happen again,” said Rebecca Brunner, a parent of a senior who attends Wakefield. “Are we going to do something about it now or when the next child is injured or killed?”
One student whose brother attends Wakefield said his parents are considering finding a different school for his brother to attend.
Community member Janeth Valenzuela said the school system should have mental health services available to students and should consider classes on drug abuse to prevent future overdoses.
Valenzuela characterized this week as “terrible,” adding that it left parents in tears. Classes were canceled Friday after the suspected overdose early in the week and a trespasser on school grounds on Thursday.
Student Clarisa Johnson attended the march and stressed the importance of the community’s support. She planned to spend part of the day off at a friend’s house so she wouldn’t feel alone.
“I’m glad that everyone came out to support, because everyone needs it right now,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s very stressed and people need to know that we’re all here for them.”
At Thursday night’s school board meeting, Arlington Superintendent Francisco Durán said the school system is planning conversations about opioids at high schools next month. As it works on the fiscal 2024 budget, Duran said, the county will also consider funding additional substance abuse counselors and expanding the availability of Narcan on school grounds.
But still, the parents and community advocates who attended Friday’s event said those measures are only a start to address the problem. They’re advocating for additional security and police in schools, and greater transparency when overdoses or other events that trigger lockdowns occur.
“[Arlington police] puts out a report each week of what goes on, of what’s happened,” Brunner said. “Arlington schools should do the same thing.”
Nonetheless, moments before the quiet march around school grounds started, Johnson, the student, said, “The Arlington community is very united.”