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After fatal drug overdose, parents march at Wakefield High School and demand action

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) A march against drugs drew a large crowd of parents and community members to Wakefield High School, where a student died this week.

Sergio Flores was found unconscious in the bathroom Tuesday morning and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He died Thursday and his death is being investigated as a possible overdose.

Latino parents, mostly mothers, planned the march as a way to show love and support for their children.

Classes were canceled for Wakefield students today (Friday) after the overdose this week and a lockdown Thursday prompted by a possibly armed trespasser. Arlington County police have since arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the trespassing incident.

Still, parents marched, carrying signs saying “Your community is here for you!” and “Queremos lo mejor para nuestros hijos,” Spanish for “We want the best for our children.”

The idea came from a community meeting held by community activists Elder Julio Basurto and Janeth Valenzuela — who wear many hats, but this time, were organizing under their organization, Juntos en Justicia. They have been advocating for more attention to opioids in Arlington Public Schools for more than a year through the organization.

Attendance swelled and other community members, as well as some School Board and County Board members, joined the march.

“It was very scary for me to read the student involved in the drug incident has died,” said Green Valley resident Frederick Craddock. “That just gives you an example: It’s in our neighborhood schools. It’s in the home somewhere, so then parents have a big role. It’s all got to come together. Maybe this will raise more awareness of the issue.”

Rebecca Brunner said three generations of her family have attended Wakefield. The high school needs police officers returned and the school system needs to be more transparent, she said.

“Don’t tell us there’s a medical emergency when a child ODed. Tell us the truth so we know what to tell our children, we know how to talk to them, we know to tell them, ‘don’t take anything,'” she said. “Fentanyl is out there.”

“Yesterday, I’m getting a video from inside the school of the SWAT team coming through the doors with assault rifles and they’re telling us, ‘Oh, we might have a possible trespasser,'” Brunner continued. “Yeah, something way more than that is going on.”

Last night during the School Board meeting, Chair Reid Goldstein read a statement, including the following.

This has been a very difficult couple of weeks, as many in our community have been exposed to traumatizing events. I’m not going to sit here and speechify and talk about our protocols and our principle that safety is our highest priority. We do have those protocols. We do have those principles. But we recognize the need for change. In recent weeks, we’ve been faced with the realization that tragic and negative events and patterns of behavior in the rest of the country can and do happen here in Arlington. We have to face the reality that our community has many of the same challenges and make changes that are effective and not continuing to cite past reactions. As a School Board, we support the superintendent in identifying and implementing concrete steps that will bring about the changes that we need to assure the wellbeing of our school communities and our larger community and we urge him to pursue every avenue in pursuit of everyone’s well being.

Superintendent Francisco Durán outlined the plan APS has for increasing education, expanding availability of opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone — mostly known by its brand name, Narcan — and training more teachers in how to use it.

Those steps include:

  • holding a series of community conversations at the high school level
  • creating a high school-specific drug use curriculum
  • budgeting for additional substance abuse counselors (there are currently six for the entire school system)
  • expanding availability of naloxone (Narcan) beyond every nurse’s office
  • launching a new student-led video and social media campaign on dangers of opioid use and the dangers of fentanyl
  • increasing outreach to PTAs and community organizations to expand parent education on trends, risks, signs of opioid use and how to prevent drug use and support students
  • deepening engagement with Arlington County Dept. of Human Services, which provides intensive treatment for students struggling with substance abuse
  • working with ACPD to find out the sources of these drugs
  • expanding small group opportunities for students facilitated by substance abuse counselors

“Our hearts are very heavy,” Durán said. “We had a very difficult week in our community and especially Wakefield.”

“This news is very devastating for all of us in our community, particularly our students, staff and teachers who are working with students directly, our parents and our community as a whole,” Durán continued. “While we are keeping the entire family and the Wakefield community in our thoughts, we have to talk about what are steps we must do and some actions that need to be put into place.”

Some parents said not enough is being done.

“The action items you claim were already happening are not in place at Wakefield,” said  Judith Davis, Wakefield High School PTSA president. “Lack of leadership and inaction is what resulted in what happened on Tuesday and what happened today. Where is the accountability for what happened? Do better. Stop celebrating yourself and talk to the community. Talk to parents. Talk to students.”

School Board member David Priddy said he is concerned the schools are not acting quickly enough.

“Have we passed out fentanyl test strips? If they are going to use, they need to know what they’re using,” he said. “Last night, I went to a fentanyl clinic. It was highly attended in the community. It took less than five minutes how to help people in cases of an overdose. Every student needs this, every parent needs this, all of our community members need this.”

He said he implored the superintendent to act quickly.

“We have the County Board on our side as well, they’re pushing us, too, to do something, use them too,” he said. “I appreciate what you were saying but I’m looking for action now.”

People who attended last night’s meeting applauded that statement.

Board Vice-Chair Cristina Diaz-Torres said Narcan should be like hand sanitizer — “as widely available and explore making it permissible for students to carry it.”

“As adults, we probably have been in a situation where we saw someone engaging in self-harm. You can watch the snowball falling down the hill, and having the opportunity to have the tools to intervene could save a life in this case,” Diaz-Torres said.

Such signs may be there in some cases, but not every case.

The national epidemic of fentanyl-related deaths has been blamed, at least in part, on accidental overdoses stemming from the powerful synthetic opioid being added to fake prescription drugs. Users believe they’re taking oxycodone or even the focus-enhancing drug Adderall but instead get a crudely-made counterfeit containing a fatal dosage of fentanyl.

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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