Gov. Glenn Youngkin has issued an executive order requiring school systems to notify parents of school-related overdoses after the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said there have been seven fentanyl-related overdoses connected to one high school in the last three weeks.
Both Youngkin and Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman faulted the Loudoun school system for failing to timely notify parents of the rash of overdoses in recent weeks at Park View High School in Sterling. None of the overdoses were fatal but several occurred on school grounds and required CPR or the administration of naloxone to save the students' lives, according to the sheriff's office.
School officials say they are taking the issue seriously and working with the sheriff's office to combat the problem.
Chapman said his deputies had been in touch with school officials, and had been under the impression that the school system was going to notify parents of what was happening. On Tuesday Park View's principal sent out a note that generically detailed the dangers of fentanyl and stating, “We are seeing students ingesting drugs prior to school and suffering the effects while in school.”
Chapman, though, said the email from the school system was far too vague about a specific threat. So later that day, the sheriff's office sent out its own email specifying that his office is investigating at least eight opioid-related overdoses of Park View students, including seven in the last three weeks.
In an email obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request, Chapman told Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence of his disappointment in the school system's message.
“Very vague, evasive and boilerplate. There is nothing that specifically addresses the crisis you and I discussed last week and a short time ago regarding Parkview HS. I believe parents, students and residents of Sterling need to know what is actually occurring,” Chapman wrote.
Spence, in a phone interview, said the school system shied away from using specific numbers for privacy issues and because it lacked some of the data to know precisely how many overdoses occurred. As an example, he said the school will sometimes call an ambulance for a child to receive medical attention, and while there may a suspicion of an overdose, it could be another medical condition.
He said the executive order will require an exploration of privacy issues, because students who might see a classmate wheeled out on a gurney to receive treatment could have their privacy violated if a school then sends out a letter telling the entire community that the incident was related to a drug overdose.
He said staff at the school have been working diligently to combat the drug issue and he's proud of their efforts. He said that while "reasonable people can differ” on whether the school should have been more specific about the numbers of overdoses, “it's important that we got the message out there,” which included available resources and encouraged parents to talk to the kids about the dangers of fentanyl.
Chapman, a Republican running for re-election in next week's elections, and Youngkin have both made parental rights in education a theme in their campaigns.
Youngkin, in issuing his executive order Wednesday night, sent out a press release saying, “While the Loudoun County Public School division reportedly waited more than twenty days to notify parents to the overdose incidents, Governor Youngkin is taking immediate action to enhance prompt parental notification.”
“Parents have a right to know what’s going on in their child’s lives, especially in schools. Overdoses that occur on school grounds or are connected to the school must lead to an immediate parental notification,” Youngkin said in he release. “School administrators’ first instinct when there is a problem cannot be to delay relevant information on critical children’s health and safety matters."
In a phone interview, Chapman said that Park View now accounts for 11 of the 19 school-related overdoses the county has seen this year, most of them occurring in the last few weeks.
This is not the first time that Loudoun County schools have found themselves the subject of criticism from Youngkin and Republicans in an election season. Two years ago, as Youngkin campaigned for governor, he criticized the school system's response to a boy who had assaulted a girl in a school bathroom, only to be transferred to another school where another assault occurred.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin contributed to this report from Richmond.