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Lesniak Acts to Remove Barriers to Addiction Recovery Program

Lesniak Recovery HS presser, 012317

Would Amend State Law on Recovery High Schools in Response to Student Being Denied Attending


TRENTON – After learning that a high school student in Livingston who has struggled with substance abuse problems was prevented from attending a recovery high school, Senator Raymond Lesniak today said that he will introduce legislation amending state law that will remove “this barrier to recovery for young people.”

A student in the Livingston school district was accepted for admission to the Raymond J. Lesniak Experience Strength Hope Recovery High School after struggling to stay sober and having many relapses. As required by law, her Superintendent and School Board had to approve her transfer. They turned her down.  The student’s mother reached out to Senator Lesniak “in desperation” for help.

“This is a barrier to recovery for a young student who wants to live free of alcohol and drugs but is being denied the opportunity to attend a high school that provides the support she needs,” said Senator Lesniak. “We should be supporting students in their efforts at recovery.”

The new bill would amend state law requiring school districts to allow their students to transfer to a recovery school if a certified substance abuse counselor verifies their need and if they are accepted by a recovery school. The legislation is cosponsored by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“We know from experience that students with substance abuse problems are far more likely to stay off drugs and alcohol if they have a supportive school environment,” said Senator Ruiz. “Addiction can be treated and recovery schools are a critical way to reach young people who are struggling with this disease. They need peer support, not peer pressure.  As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I am proud to support Senator Lesniak, our students and families by co-sponsoring a needed change in the law to remove unnecessary obstacles to recovery and better ensure that our residents get the help they need, when they need it.”

Senator Lesniak wrote the law establishing recovery high schools in New Jersey to provide a place where “education and recovery can take place together.”

The law creating the recovery schools authorizes school districts to establish alternative education programs, including recovery high schools, with the approval of their boards of education.  A recovery high school alternative education program is defined as an alternative education program that serves students diagnosed with substance use disorder or dependency.

Under current law, a sending district could enter into an agreement with a school district that has established a recovery high school alternative education program for the provision of services to a student who is currently enrolled in the sending district.  If the student is admitted to the recovery high school alternative education program, the sending district pays tuition to that district.

The first such school in New Jersey is operating in Union County, where Prevention Links opened a Recovery School at Kean University as part of the Union County Vocational School System. The school – the Raymond Lesniak ESH Recovery High School – is named after Senator Lesniak in recognition of his active leadership on the issue.

For teenagers, school often sits at the heart of the relapse threat, according to substance abuse experts. These programs provide a comprehensive, four-year high school education in an alternative public school setting with a structured plan of recovery that is aligned with the national framework of evidence-based practices for recovery high schools.

Joining in support at today’s news conference were: Joel Pomales, Recovery High School Mentor, Prevention Links Board Member; Morgan Thompson, Recovery High School Program Coordinator; Jennifer Lubalin, mother of current recovery student; Jill Hall –the Substance Abuse Counselor at Union High School; Donna DeStafano, parent advocate and founder of Parents in Connection for Kids; Devin Reeves,  Board member of the Association of Recovery Schools   and founder of Young People in Recovery/Philadelphia; George Pizzo, founder of the Amber Pizzo Foundation ; Dr. Jay Majka, Superintendent for Matawan Schools; Nely Perez, Director of Special Services; Kathleen Loures, Founder & Executive Director of Right Your Life; parents of current students at the Raymond J. Lesniak Experience Strength Hope Recovery High School; Pamela Capaci, Executive Director, Prevention Links.