Turning grief into action
Public officials don’t often bear the anguish they’ve endured in their private lives unless it somehow advances their political career.
So it was both extraordinary and commendable and oh so heart-rendering when at public meeting this week, Pennsbury school board President Jacquelyn Redner spoke of her son’s recent death.
Josh Redner was 28 when he overdosed on heroin, becoming yet another statistic in a growing and tragic problem. In fact, it is a problem of epidemic proportions that reaches across the nation, including Bucks County — and the Pennsbury School District, in particular.
Though we haven’t accessed official numbers, unofficially Redner and others believe dozens of former Pennsbury students have perished by drugs in recent years. Indeed just around the corner from the district’s two high schools, a sign in front of the Levittown-Fairless Hills Rescue Squad announces 241 overdoses in its coverage area this year alone. Eighteen of those calls resulted in fatalities. The county reports that, in 2016, overdoses rose to 185, a 50 percent spike from the year before.
It’s why Pennsbury chose to take the unprecedented action it took this week. With every member present voting in favor, the school board approved two new programs. One involves an agreement with the Richard J. Caron Foundation to provide drug counseling and other services to district schools, including staff training and student mental health assessments. The board also OK’d a deal with a curriculum provider to incorporate lessons on reducing anxiety, bullying prevention and other strategies designed to reduce drug abuse.
As reporter Chris English wrote, Redner couldn’t save her own son, but with their actions this week, she and her colleagues hope to save others.
Among those nobody could save was Luke Johnson, a 2013 Pennsbury graduate who died of a heroin overdose in May. He was 22.
Members of Luke’s family appeared before the board in June to plead with the board to do more. They said Luke started his drug abuse as a high school freshman, when a fellow Pennsbury student handed him a pill in school. Maureen Johnson, Luke’s mother, said that within two weeks of her son’s death, five other Pennsbury graduates lost their lives to drugs. She said future graduates face the same fate if school officials don’t take advantage of the opportunity they have to intervene.
The emotional plea from the Johnson family piqued Redner’s emotions, whose son was battling addiction at the time. And it won won her support to do more with the vote she cast this week — just days after her son’s death. It should be noted that doing more won’t cost taxpayers much; just a tad over $160,000 for both programs.
And so we extend our sympathies to both families for their losses and also offer commendations for acting on their painful experiences so that other families might never know such grief.
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