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This spring, tackle cleaning out that junk drawer full of electronics or the garage with leftover paint and old lightbulbs.

Next month marks the return of Arlington County’s Environmental Collection and Recycling Event (E-CARE). On Saturday, March 23, residents can safely dispose of old electronics and household hazardous materials.

This biannual event will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street). There will be several collection areas where Arlington residents can drop off their unwanted items.

Residents are asked to bring proof of Arlington residency and to pack their vehicles in reverse order, with electronics going in first and hazardous materials afterward.

Below is a list of items that will be accepted and not accepted, per the county website.

  • Automotive fluids
  • Batteries
  • Care care products
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • Corrosives (acids/caustics)
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Flammable solvents
  • Fluorescent tubes
  • Fuels/petroleum products
  • Household cleaners
  • Lawn and garden chemicals
  • Mercury
  • Paint products (25-can limit)
  • Photographic chemicals
  • Poisons
  • Printer ink/toner cartridges
  • Propane gas cylinders (small hand-held or larger)
  • Swimming pool chemicals

Items containing mercury, such as thermostats and thermometers, will also be collected.

Metal items, bicycle donations and business and commercial waste will not be accepted, along with these items:

  • Asbestos
  • Explosives and ammunition
  • Freon
  • Medical wastes
  • Prescription medications
  • Radioactive materials
  • Smoke detectors

Residential trash, recycling and yard waste customers can request request free curbside removal of computers, keyboards, copiers, scanners, printers, cell phones and televisions online or by calling 703-228-5000. There is a small fee for picking up for older cathode ray TVs and computer monitors, the county website says.

Arlington County residents and employees who miss the event can drop off their hazardous household materials year-round at a recycling center at 530 31st Street S., near Crystal City.

Scrap metal, appliances and electronics can be dropped off at the Earth Products Yard in Shirlington at 4300 29th Street S. or scheduled for pickup for a fee. Inert material such as cement can also be taken to the Shirlington facility.

Unsure of where to dispose of something? Look up specific disposal instructions using this county tool.

Photos via Dept. of Environmental Services/Flickr

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Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

There was another possible overdose at Wakefield High School last week.

Around 1:20 p.m., medics were dispatched to Wakefield for a report of an unconscious person, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner.

“The patient was transported to Virginia Hospital Center in stable condition,” he said.

Police were then dispatched around 2:15 p.m. to VHC Health, formerly Virginia Hospital Center, for reports of a possible overdose, Arlington County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.

“The preliminary investigation indicates a juvenile female was transported from Wakefield High School to the hospital for medical treatment,” she said. “The incident was investigated as an overdose and the juvenile suffered non-life-threatening injuries.”

ACPD did not provide more information, citing Virginia law, which requires law enforcement agencies to ensure juvenile records are not disclosed to unauthorized parties.

Wakefield staff also called ACPD following the medical incident, says school system spokesman Andrew Robinson, noting this is consistent with the memorandum of understanding between Arlington Public Schools and ACPD “when there might be a possibility of a potential overdose in our schools.”

Arlington Public Schools and ACPD began inking an MOU two years ago, after the Arlington School Board voted to remove School Resource Officers from school grounds. The MOU was last updated in September to enumerate the emergency situations that trigger a call to police, including potential overdose incidents. Example emergency situations were not previously included in a previous draft from the spring of 2022.

“The MOU with ACPD is reviewed annually and tweaks are often made to further enhance and strengthen the partnership with APS,” Robinson said.

As for how the incident was communicated to the Wakefield community, Robinson said families received the following message from APS on Thursday afternoon.

This message is to inform you that emergency personnel responded to Wakefield High School briefly today to assist with a medical incident involving a student. The family of the student has been notified. As some of our students observed the first responders in our building, we wanted to ensure you are aware that the incident was resolved, and everyone is safe.

Robinson says the school system has a standard medical emergency message and APS does not disclose the nature of medical emergencies for student privacy and confidentiality reasons.

Since the fatal overdose of a 14-year-old Wakefield student nearly one year ago, APS has stepped up prevention education and counseling, the Arlington School Board permitted high schoolers to carry Narcan and a private treatment facility resumed admitting teen patients.

Still, underage overdose incidents have persisted, including last fall, when two girls survived overdoses at Wakefield, after which police charged a teen and a 19-year-old man with a battery of charges.

(Separately, police were dispatched to Yorktown High School today for what was initially reported to be an overdose. It was later determined to just be a medical emergency, Savage told ARLnow.)

Last November, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed Executive Order 28 requiring schools to notify all parents of school-involved overdoses within 24 hours. He directed the Virginia Dept. of Education to develop guidance for schools as they implement any changes to their communications with families.

Within a month, VDOE posted interim best practices interpreting the text of the executive order. VDOE did not respond to ARLnow’s request for more information about how the state will track whether schools follow the executive order.

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Washington-Liberty High School Holiday Bazaar (via Washington-Liberty High School/Facebook)

(Updated at 12/5/23) Two Arlington high schools are gearing up to host holiday markets over the next two weekends.

This Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Washington-Liberty High School will hold its 63rd annual “Holiday Bazaar.”

The following Saturday, Dec. 9, Wakefield High School is also set to host its annual “Winter Bazaar” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Both events will showcase local vendors offering handcrafted goods such as jewelry, ceramics, clothing and holiday decorations, as well as festive food and drinks. Admission and parking are free for both markets.

At the Washington-Liberty holiday market, high school clubs and teams will also sell various items to raise money, according to an event webpage. While vendors accept several payment methods, the student organizations generally only take cash.

Photo via Washington-Liberty High School/Facebook

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E-CARE event in 2021 at Yorktown High School (courtesy of Arlington County)

(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Arlington residents can safely dispose of their old batteries, printer ink cartridges and other hazardous materials at Wakefield High School this Saturday.

The popular, biannual Arlington Environmental Collection and Recycling (E-CARE) event is set to take place at the high school, located at 1325 S. Dinwiddie Street, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., “rain or shine,” according to a county press release.

“More than 300,000 pounds of household hazardous materials (HHMs) were collected for recycling or environmentally safe disposal during FY 2023 through drop-offs at the Water Pollution Control Plant and at E-CARE events,” the release said.

“In addition, approximately 110,000 pounds of used electronics were collected for recycling through the HHM program during the fiscal year,” the release continued.

For those planning to drive, a flagger will be stationed on the corner of S. Dinwiddie Street, between the baseball field and the parking lot, to direct vehicles to the appropriate drop-off location. Attendees are also required to show proof that they live in Arlington.

Below is a list of items that will be accepted and not accepted, per the county website.

Accepted Materials

  • Automotive fluids
  • Batteries
  • Car care products
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
  • Corrosives (acids/caustics)
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Flammable solvents
  • Fluorescent tubes
  • Fuels/petroleum products
  • Household cleaners
  • Lawn and garden chemicals
  • Mercury
  • Paint products (25-can limit)
  • Photographic chemicals
  • Poisons (pesticides)
  • Printer ink/toner cartridges
  • Propane gas cylinders (small hand-held or larger)
  • Swimming pool chemicals

Unaccepted Materials

  • Asbestos
  • Explosives and ammunition
  • Freon
  • Medical wastes
  • Prescription medications
  • Radioactive materials
  • Smoke detectors

Bikes, small metal items and commercial waste also won’t be accepted.

Arlington County residents and employees who miss the event can drop off their hazardous household materials year-round at a recycling center at 530 31st Street S., near Crystal City.

Scrap metal, appliances and electronics can be dropped off at the Earth Products Yard in Shirlington at 4300 29th Street S. or scheduled for pickup for a fee. Inert material such as cement can also be taken to the Shirlington facility.

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Wakefield High School entrance in February 2023 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A 19-year-old man and a teen boy are facing charges after two girls overdosed at Wakefield High School last week.

Police and medics responded to the school just before 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27 for a report of a critical overdose. A student in the school clinic was going in and out of consciousness and Narcan was administered ahead of the arrival of first responders, according to scanner traffic.

Arlington County police said today that the overdose patient was a teen girl, who was transported to a local hospital along with a second overdose patient, also a teen girl. Both “have since recovered,” ACPD said in a press release.

An investigation into the overdose led police to arrest Walter Zelaya Padilla, a 19-year-old Fairfax resident, and a teen boy who lives in Arlington. They’re facing a battery of charges, with police saying that Padilla supplied fentanyl to the teen, who then gave or sold it to the victims.

The drug distribution happened within a school zone, APCD said.

The arrests come as Arlington County tries to combat a crisis of teen opioid abuse. While overdoses in general are trending down this year in Arlington, incidents of teen overdoses have prompted calls to action by parents and local officials.

In January, 14-year-old Sergio Flores died after overdosing in a Wakefield High School bathroom. In March, several Washington-Liberty High School students overdosed in the Ballston mall parking garage. Last month, another Wakefield student was found dead at an apartment building in what one elected official and a local advocacy group described as an overdose, though an official cause of death has yet to be determined.

If the student’s death last month is confirmed as an overdose, it would be at least the 11th reported juvenile overdose in Arlington County — fatal and non-fatal — so far this year, factoring the two last week and official numbers provided to ARLnow by the county earlier in September.

More on the drug arrests, below, via an ACPD press release.

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Friends and family gather at a memorial for Jorge Rodríguez (courtesy Janeth Valenzuela)

A Wakefield High School freshman named Jorge Chavarria Rodíguez died Thursday evening, according to several sources.

The 16-year-old attended Barcroft Elementary School and Kenmore Middle School and had just started his 9th-grade year at Wakefield, per an email from Wakefield Principal Peter Balas to the school community.

“Jorge was a beloved member of the Wakefield, Kenmore, and Barcroft families, and impacted the lives of many of our students and staff members,” Balas said in the email, which Arlington Public Schools provided to ARLnow. “He was excited and happy to join the Wakefield family, with staff recalling his genuine smile.”

This marks the second death of a Wakefield student this calendar year. APS confirmed on Monday, a school holiday, that Jorge was not on school grounds at the time of his passing.

Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said police found a deceased teen last Thursday at an apartment building in the 5100 block of Columbia Pike. Officers were dispatched just before 8:30 p.m. on Thursday for the report of an unresponsive person on the ground.

First responders reported that the person was dead upon their arrival on scene, according to scanner traffic.

Now, ACPD is conducting a death investigation and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine cause and manner of death. She noted a preliminary investigation “has not revealed an ongoing threat to the community related to this incident.”

In a GoFundMe page created by Jorge’s mother, Luz, she writes in Spanish that she is living through the worst pain a mother can experience. She says her biggest wish is to give him the final goodbye he deserves as a beloved son.

An English-language description below describes Jorge as “a happy and playful child, a good student and an excellent son.”

“My heart is broken knowing that his dreams will not come true and that his life was short,” she says. “I thank you in advance for your expressions of affection and collaboration. I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone. May my little Jorge rest in peace.”

Over the weekend, a tribute to her son, made of flowers and saint candles, started growing around a tree across the street from the Columbia Pike Plaza shopping center. The GoFundMe, meanwhile, has circulated on social media and received some 265 donations, totaling more than $13,000 of the $25,000 goal, as of publication.

The Arlington County Board briefly discussed the 16-year-old’s passing on Saturday.

Reading from texts he received, Board member Takis Karantonis said it was possibly an overdose, amid attempts by Chair Christian Dorsey to interject.

“Whatever the circumstances, it’s a tragic thing, and I’m really devastated and heartbroken about this,” Karantonis said.

Dorsey cut the the discussion short, saying that “resources are going to be made available to the students next week [and] details are not known at this time.”

In a statement, community activist Janeth Valenzuela said adults and responsible citizens need to act quickly or risk losing more children to death and addictions.

“We want to make changes, now,” she said. “Not tomorrow, today. Let us not allow this death to be one more of others, let us use this pain that burns our soul to gain momentum and defend our children and the children of our community with our claws.”

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Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Three days into the school year, Wakefield High School has logged a potential student overdose.

Medics were dispatched to the school at 11:30 a.m. and again about 45 minutes later for two students suffering possible drug overdoses — or, at least, the effects of suspected narcotics — according to scanner traffic.

Later this afternoon, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow that a “juvenile male was transported to an area hospital in non-life threatening condition.”

Police also responded to the school to investigate and are looking into the incident “as an apparent overdose and the investigation,” she said.

In an email, Wakefield Principal Pete Balas assured families that students were safe during the ordeal, which he described as a “medical incident” involving a student.

The full email is as follows:

Dear Families,

Emergency personnel responded to Wakefield this morning to assist with a medical incident involving a student. Fortunately, everyone is safe, and they were able to work with our staff to address the situation. At no point was the safety of any students or staff compromised.

As some of our students observed the first responders in our building, I wanted to ensure you are aware that the incident was resolved, and everyone is safe.

Sincerely,
Pete Balas,
Principal

A student died earlier this year at Wakefield from an overdose, followed by more dispatches for substance-abuse related emergencies at the school and near Washington-Liberty High School.

The student’s death, followed by a parent march and outcry for more support from teachers, prompted the Arlington School Board and administrators to act.

The school system allowed students to bring the opioid-reversal drug Narcan to school and budgeted for new deans and more substance-abuse counselors. These and other measures are part of a system-wide focus on increasing student well-being, particularly at the secondary level, this year.

Wakefield’s former principal, Chris Willmore, was promoted this spring to be the director of secondary education for Arlington Public Schools. One month later, Balas, who previously led Alexandria City High School, emerged as his replacement.

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As Derek Cushman rowed for the ninth hour of the day, he responded to ARLnow’s questions between heavy breaths from exhaustion via a Twitch chat box.

The recent Wakefield High School graduate has been rowing on a machine in his living room for six days now, in an attempt to beat the current men’s world record for 1 million meters rowed by someone under 19 years old. The record for the age category, set in 2020, stands at 10 days, 13 hours and four minutes.

Cushman has been rowing from roughly 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. since last Friday, July 14, reaching a minimum of 110,000 meters each day in order to stay on track to beat the record.

“I am feeling good. A lot better than I was expecting. I am unbelievably confident that I will beat the current record. I am hoping to beat it by more than a day,” Cushman said.

His attempt to take the world record title is also his way of raising money for the Wakefield High School crew team. Every day, a live stream of Cushman is available to watch on Twitch where viewers can comment, watch him row and scan a QR code to donate.

Cushman said he feels like he owes it to the team to raise the money, as his four years on the roster helped land him a spot on La Salle University’s Division I crew team.

“Wakefield Crew does not have a lot of money. I want this money to be used to pay for kids who do not have the funds to be on the team, but do have the talent,” Cushman said. “I hope I can also raise enough money to help buy the team some new boats or equipment.”

Members of the teen’s family and his friends can often be seen sitting in the living room with Cushman, supporting and distracting him from the pain he said his body is in.

Cushman’s mother told ARLnow that she is very proud of her son and thinks it is impressive that he is dedicated to doing something so intensive.

For his part, Cushman says he is determined to complete his goal, despite how mentally taxing it has been to row every day for 10 hours, with only some momentary breaks.

“This is not something that I have been training for. I was the fastest guy on the team last year so I figured I could beat this record,” Cushman said. “Getting my name in the record book would prove to myself and others that I am an athlete to not forget about. I have the mental toughness to row for days on end and the determination to succeed.”

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Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas in 2022 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Arlington Public Schools has hired a well-liked high school principal from Alexandria.

APS announced four new principal appointments last night, after their approval by the Arlington School Board. Among them: Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Peter Balas, who will take over as principal of Wakefield High School in the fall.

Wakefield, which has faced the overdose death of a student as well as threats of violence this year, has its top spot open with Principal Chris Willmore being promoted to Director of Secondary Education at APS.

Balas, who has been with Alexandria City Public Schools for 22 years, took over at then-T.C. Williams High School in 2017. Since then, Balas has navigated the school through Covid, a consequential decision to stick with one large high school for the city, the school’s renaming and issues around violence in and outside of the school.

ACHS saw frequent leadership turnover in the years before Balas took charge and, despite continued turnover at the leadership level in the years that followed, Balas has been a stabilizing force for the school.

“To watch these students grow over time is more rewarding than I ever anticipated,” Balas wrote in announcing his decision to take the Wakefield position. “And, seeing all of my elementary school students now at the high school has given me one of the most unique and special opportunities of my career. My time in ACPS has made me a better teacher, leader and person.”

Balas said he won’t leave until June and will see the school year through until graduation.

Also last night, APS announced a trio of elementary and middle school principal appointments, including Long Branch Elementary Assistant Principal Carolyn Jackson becoming principal of Gunston Middle School.

New Gunston Middle School Principal Carolyn Jackson (photo courtesy APS)

From APS:

At its May 11 meeting, the Arlington School Board appointed Carolyn Jackson as Principal of Gunston Middle School. She currently serves as the Assistant Principal of Long Branch Elementary School.

Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science from North Carolina A & T State University, a master’s from George Washington University and George Mason University and is currently working on a Doctor of Education from William and Mary.

Jackson has been an educator serving Arlington Public Schools in a variety of roles for 23 years. Throughout her career, she has served in different capacities at Gunston Middle School, including teacher, activities director, Director of Counseling Services and Assistant Principal. Jackson also served as a counselor at Claremont Immersion School, Assistant Principal at Nottingham Elementary School and a Supervisor in the Office of Equity and Excellence.

Rounding out the appointments are new Hoffman-Boston Elementary Principal Helena Payne Chauvenet and new Carlin Springs Elementary Principal Carmen De La Cruz Scales. Payne Chauvenet is another external hire — she is currently principal of Maury Elementary School in D.C. — while De La Cruz Scales is an assistant principal at Arlington’s Washington-Liberty High School.

The hiring of Balas, meanwhile, is reverberating around Arlington’s southern neighbor, with many on social media lamenting a titanic loss at a time of transition for Alexandria’s school system.

Vernon Miles contributed to this report

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Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins (left) and Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore (right)

Last Thursday, the Arlington School Board promoted two veteran secondary school principals to new positions.

Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore will become Director of Secondary Education while Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins will lead Arlington Community High School.

Their appointments are effective July 1.

Willmore began his career at APS in 1995 as a teacher at the Spanish immersion school Escuela Key. After briefly leaving the school system, he returned in 1999 as a teacher in the Gunston’s immersion program. Willmore became an assistant principal at Wakefield High School in 2002 and eight years later, was named principal.

“I have loved my time at Wakefield and I am very proud of what the Wakefield community has accomplished and what the Wakefield student body and community represents,” Willmore told the School Board during last Thursday’s meeting. “As I hear time and time again, Wakefield is what the world will look like and our students at Wakefield get to experience that now, every day that they come to school.”

In an email to the school community, shared with ARLnow, Willmore said he poured his heart and soul into his work “because I feel strongly that that is the bare minimum of what our incredible students and staff deserve.”

After a 13-year tenure, which he described as an anomaly, he said he asked Superintendent Francisco Durán about changing jobs.

“This was a difficult decision for me to come to, but I feel that this is the right path forward for me and ultimately for Wakefield,” he continued.

The high school experienced difficult times earlier this year after a 14-year-old overdosed in a school bathroom and later died at the hospital, prompting the School Board to act and teachers to voice their fears this could happen again if protocols did not change. In late February, the school launched a confidential online form for people to report unsafe situations concerning a student.

Wiggins, meanwhile, has been with APS since 2012, serving as the principal of Gunston Middle School for the last 11 years.

Before coming to Arlington Public Schools, Wiggins worked in West Virginia as the executive director of the Office of Professional Preparation in the state Department of Education. In West Virginia, she also served as a middle school principal and assistant high school principal. She got her start teaching Spanish in East New York, Brooklyn.

Wiggins earned her bachelor’s degree from Messiah College, her master’s from California State University, Northridge, and her doctorate from West Virginia University.

“I am excited about this opportunity,” she told the School Board. “I’m looking forward to being able to grow, being able to bring lessons learned from my 11 years at Gunston, a passion for school leadership, a relentless drive to improve outcomes… and to work with a community that is highly mission driven.”

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Parents and community members march in front of Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

After a fatal overdose on school grounds last month, Arlington Public Schools has been urging staff to call 911 for potential overdoses.

For incidents that might not be life-or-death, however, staff members are still being instructed to tell administrators when students show signs of being high or drunk, sending them to the school nurse for evaluation.

But multiple school sources tell ARLnow that, in their experience, they’ve already been reporting possibly impaired kids to administration and getting them evaluated by nurses, and neither step made inroads for students who are repeatedly coming to school high.

They added that they don’t feel heard by administrators. Students who are evaluated are either sent home or — in at least one case — returned to class while obviously high, per a video inside a classroom that ARLnow reviewed.

The instructions to staff were not enough to address their long-standing concerns about a group of teens at Wakefield that included Sergio Flores, the student who died last month, according to some teachers and local teachers union president June Prakash.

Before Flores was found unconscious in a bathroom at the school last month, staff had intervened when they discovered him and other students doing drugs — and had told administrators they were doing drugs and skipping class, according to a teacher with knowledge of the situation and documentation shared with ARLnow.

Despite following protocol, the teachers say the behavior continued.

“It’s going to happen again and again if this is all Arlington Public Schools is going to do,” the teacher told ARLnow, on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution. “I don’t want to see this story or our students buried again.”

“As educators, we are in loco parentis” — acting in the place of the parent, in Latin — “but where does that begin and end?” Prakash asked.

It’s a question rattling teachers, says parent Judith Davis.

“Teachers are not okay, at all,” she tells ARLnow.

One Wakefield teacher is now even taking it upon herself to raise money to support families who cannot afford residential drug treatment for their children, which can cost some $60,000 for 90 days. Nearly $2,400 has been raised so far.

“I believe some students’ only chance to recover from opioid addiction is to remove them from the school environment and place them in a residential program,” the teacher wrote in the GoFundMe description. “Help me raise funds so that a student’s ability to pay is never an issue when finding a placement.”

Opioid use appears to be on the rise among youth and in Arlington Public Schools, and this issue is more widespread than just Wakefield.

In 2019, there were no recorded opioid overdoses involving juveniles in Arlington. Last year, that number jumped to eight, none of which were fatal. This year alone, there have been four, three of which occurred at school, and one of which was fatal, per remarks Tuesday by County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

Sources say the writing has been on the wall for months and perhaps since the end of widespread virtual instruction during the pandemic. They said teachers do not feel heard by administrators when they report their concerns or refer students for evaluations. Such concerns extend to lower grades, including at local elementary and middle schools.

“This does seem like a no-win situation in a lot of ways,” Prakash said. “On the one hand, you report something, and it seems to go unnoticed, or it looks like nothing is happening.”

“On the other hand,” she continued, “you have untrained staff trying to make these assessments — and what if they are wrong — what are the consequences for thinking a kid might be under the influence and then having them sent home?”

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