Senate Panel Approves Lesniak Bill Allowing ‘Recovery’ Charter Schools

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved a legislative proposal authored by Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) that would allow for the creation of recovery charter schools to help students overcome substance abuse or dependence disorders. The legislation, S-2974, would permit charter schools devoted to students in recovery.

“This would provide sober schooling for young students in recovery,” said Lesniak. “These schools will help students address their addiction issues at the same time they receive a quality education.”

Emerging as a means of aiding the success of young people trying to overcome addiction, the practice started at Brown and Rutgers universities where dormitories were designated for students in recovery. The success of the college residential facilities led to the creation of recovery high schools in communities across the country.

For teenagers, school often sits at the heart of the relapse threat. Offering students a learning environment removed from the peer pressure and the drug and alcohol use that contributed to their substance abuse dramatically increases their chances for a successful recovery, according to substance abuse experts. Specialized services and the support of other students in recovery are added factors that can help sustain long-term recovery, the program’s supporters say.

“Schools that are devoted to students in recovery can provide the academic services and assistance that will help them grow and flourish free of addiction to drugs and alcohol,” said Senator Lesniak, a long-time proponent of recovery programs and services, including drug courts. “They can conquer their substance abuse problems with the support of their classmates, teachers and school officials who will back them up every step of the way.”

The graduation rate for students who return to high school after going through a rehabilitation clinic is 20 percent, Lesniak noted, while 90 percent of students in recovery high schools in other states is 90 percent.

Under current law, a charter school may limit admission to a particular grade level or to areas of concentration of the school, such as mathematics, science, or the arts. This bill would amend the charter school law to permit charter schools to limit admission to students with a substance abuse or dependence disorder.

Among the many supporters who testified on behalf of the bill were Mayor Jamel Holley of Roselle and Charlene Bathelus, a member of the Elizabeth School Board. They are working to establish a recovery charter school that would serve students from Elizabeth and Roselle.

“Alcohol and drug addiction is fast becoming a greater problem with the spreading use of prescription drugs and heroin in urban, suburban and rural communities throughout the state,” said Holley. “With young people, drug abuse often centers around schools. These charter schools can make schools the centers of recovery.”

Results from a 2010 National Institute on Drug Abuse survey show that by the 8th grade about 36 percent of teens in the U.S. have used alcohol at some point in their life; this number increases to 71 percent by the 12th grade. As for use of any illegal drugs, the survey revealed that about 21 percent of teens have used some form of illegal drug by 8th grade, with the number increasing to just over 48 percent by the 12th grade.

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