This is the first time a Colorado school district has considered a policy change around the complex health and legal issue of allowing students to administer the drug at school. The decision is also one of the first in the nation.
“Kids wanting to save kids – I don't know what is more profound than that,” said Board Secretary Andrea Parmenter. “This has been a great learning experience for all of us, and that is what we're all about as a district.”
Board members voted 4-1 to direct Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser and staff to assume the legal risk of amending the district’s existing Opiate Antagonist Policy. The lone dissenting vote was from Board President Kristin Smith.
“I want students to know if they need medical help, there are adults there and they are trained for this, and they’re there for you,” said Smith. “I don’t want students to have that burden of feeling like they’re the only ones that can save each other in these kinds of instances.”
The policy revision is currently in a draft form as Administration of Opiate Antagonist (Section J). It will allow students –along with staff members who are already trained to administer the drug – to administer Narcan in the emergency situation of a opioid overdose.
“We want you to be in a safe place to learn,” said Cheser, addressing students in attendance at the March 28 board meeting. “You're saying, ‘I want to do this very adult thing,’ but we would rather you don't have to take on that responsibility. I want to thank the Board for being very responsible for this decision, which could have long-term consequences for our district.”
- Narcan is already in schools. “Narcan has been available in all of our schools for a year and a half,” said Cheser. “We are thankful that we have never had to use it. Security and healthcare staff at all our schools are trained to administer this life-saving medication.”
- There have been no overdoses at any of our schools. “We’ve heard from our local law enforcement that opioid use is on the rise. The Board’s decision is a precautionary measure to get ahead of a national crisis. Our students just want to be prepared to help if needed,” said Cheser.
- We value student voice. The district is supportive and proud of our passionate high school students for starting a discussion, reaching out to the media, protesting peacefully, participating in board meetings, and listening as leaders came to a consensus. “This was never ‘us vs. them,’” said Karla Sluis, the district’s Public Information Officer. “It was a complicated decision we all made together to keep our kids safe.”
- Prevention and harm reduction must go together. Narcan may prevent an overdose; but it is not the solution to the nationwide problem of opioid addiction. “We are taking a multipronged approach,” said Cheser. “We all need to rise up, inform, educate, and prevent; and at the same time reduce harm.” The district is expanding its prevention work, including: building on substance-use prevention efforts, providing additional mental health support at school, increasing DEIB work (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging), and offering positive activities for students’ social-emotional health.
- More work is ahead. We hope the attention on our district highlights the need to have hard conversations about the dangers of drug use: friend to friend, parent to child, and leader to leader around the country. If we work together, we can help save lives.
- November 2022: A small group of Durango High School (DHS) students met with Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser and requested to carry and use Narcan on campus.
- January 2023: A group of DHS students held a rally before the regular board meeting, and some of them provided public comment during the meeting.
- February 2023: The Board debated the issue and heard from students who presented in person at meetings. District staff and legal team conducted research and discussed the potential risks of students carrying/using Narcan – as there is no comparable case study in the event of a lawsuit. Students decided to host a forum in March for open discussion and to provide clarity around their specific request.
- March 27, 2023: Six students hosted a forum with a Q&A and community presentations from the chief of police, fire department deputy chief, a pediatrician, and representatives from the public health department. Approximately 25 people attended.
- March 28, 2023: Board of Education votes 4-1 to allow the district to assume the legal risk of allowing students to carry and use Narcan on campus.
- The superintendent is working closely with the district's legal team to create an Administration of Opiate Antagonist policy that would mitigate the legal risk to students, families, staff, and the district. “We are looking at ways to mitigate risk by closely examining the laws with our legal team,” said Cheser.
- The district is in the process of developing guidelines for students who want to carry/use Narcan on campus, which will likely include:
- A permission slip signed by a parent
- Narcan training and distribution (and possible CPR training)
- Inventory and regulation of Narcan by school staff
- Check-out and tracking system at the school