Bill Could Expand Addiction Recovery High School Program

TRENTON, NJ—The state government could expand its recovery high school program under a bill which cleared the General Assembly on June 11 and the Senate on May 18.

The recovery high school pilot program was established on Kean University's campus under Senate Bill 2058, passed in 2014.  The law created the first school in the state that focused on recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. 

Should the new bill be signed by Governor Chris Christie, three new recovery schools would open, one each in northern, central and southern New Jersey.

The Department of Education would put out a request for proposals, and applicants would need to have a qualified board and be "clinically and academically appropriate."

“These schools serve two very important functions, providing a good education and helping young people in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol, said Senator Raymond Lesniak, for whom the state's first recovery high school is named.

"By combining the two, it makes both work more effectively," Lesniak said.

Lesniak had originally proposed two additional schools to the Senate Budget Committee, though later increased the proposal to three.

The bill would now have to be signed into law by Governor Christie, who has generally been supportive of drug treatment and prevention programs.

An annual report containing graduation rates, scholastic performance and state standardized test performance would be submitted annually to the Department of Education.  

"Raymond J. Lesniak Recovery High School" opened on October 1, 2014, and began serving ten students one month later.

By April of this year, the student body had climbed to up to 25 enrollees. 

"Teenagers and adolescents who remain in the same environment and with the same friends have it harder to make the changes they want and need," Lesniak wrote in a press statement. "They need peer support, not peer pressure.” 

“This is a safe environment with a culture that is not pro-drug,” said Mary Landriau, a clinical social worker for students at the school, told The Record.  “So they’re not bombarded with ‘what I did this weekend.’ They don’t have to explain where they were.”

“We change their trauma into an asset and look at it as a point of growth and strength,” she added.

Funding for the pilot school came from the individual school districts from which the student resided in, as well as through fundraising efforts by Prevention Links, a Roselle-based, non-profit substance abuse treatment program. 

The school districts would fund and support the student through a pay-per student plan, with the costs of sending a student to the school expected to be between $30,000 and $35,000 a year.

Referrals for the recovery high school are taken from regular high schools, treatment centers and other juvenile justice systems. 

Recovery high schools have been implemented across the country since the first one opened in Maryland in 1979.

While roughly 80 recovery high schools have opened their doors across the United States since then, only 35 still exist today.