Back where it all began
Four short years ago, Luke Johnson was among the hundreds of students who happily graduated from Pennsbury High School. Last month, just a few weeks before members of this year’s graduating class received their diplomas, Luke overdosed on heroin.
Luke was 22 when he died.
Last week, members of Luke’s family were back where the troubles began for their loved one — at Pennsbury. They appeared before school board members and administrators in an effort to save other students from Luke’s tragic fate. They pleaded with officials to expand the district’s drug abuse prevention curriculum, hire a drug counselor for the high school, and find additional ways to teach students about the dangers of heroin, synthetic opioids and other drugs.
Family members targeted the district because Luke’s involvement with drugs began as a freshman when, according to a relative who teaches at Pennsbury, a classmate slipped Luke a synthetic opioid pill. Another relative recalled Luke obtaining a prescription painkiller from the mother of a high school football player.
Luke’s cousin, Danny Cummins, a 2010 Pennsbury graduate, testified to the accessibility of drugs at the school. “I am a recovering addict, and it started within the walls of these schools,” he told officials. “It’s happening in your schools; I am proof of it.
“I wasn’t’ the typical ‘bad’ kid that people think become addicts,” Cummins continued. “Addiction can happen to anyone. Education on this growing epidemic is what we need right now. We’re asking you to care enough about your students to put better programs in place.”
We don’t mean to pick on one high school. This is a problem in every high school, and officials in every school district should likewise consider the requests now before Pennsbury.
Fact is, drug addiction is a growing problem. So whatever the schools are doing, and we know they all have programs in place, they should assess the effectiveness of those programs. Why spin your wheels, and spend tax money, if you’re not getting where you need to go.
Part of the problem are the many issues, not all education-related, that demand officials’ attention. Abby Johnson, Luke’s younger sister and a 2017 Pennsbury grad, complained that officials focus too much attention on social issues, such as bathrooms for transgender students.
“I’m not saying that isn’t important,” she said, “but it affects only a select few students — much less than this issue.”
She’s right about that. And officials who responded at the meeting and in an email to our reporter are right that the district has numerous programs in place and that the problem “runs deeper and wider than the walls of our schools.”
But the entire focus of our schools is education. And the need for more effective drug and alcohol education is pretty clear. It certainly is to Pennsbury board member Jacquelyn Redner, whose son is a recovering heroin addict. “My son took his first drug in this school,” she said. “This school needs to get its act together….”
So should they all.
© Copyright 2017 Bucks County Courier Times, 8400 N. Bristol Pk Levittown, PA