Recovery High Schools: Fixing an Anomaly

In 2009 the legislature enacted a law (M.G.L. c. 71, §91) that provides for the creation of a number of Recovery High Schools.  Four such schools have been established, in Boston, Beverly, Brockton, and Springfield, and they are an indispensable resource for the troubled students who are fortunate enough to enroll.

Recovery High Schools are designed to enable students who are in recovery from alcoholism or other kinds of substance dependence or addiction to reengage with their education, consolidate their steps to recovery, and emerge, hopefully, not only with a diploma but also with the internal resources and a community of support to remain sober and/or drug-free and to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

The importance of such a resource for kids emerging from the extremely difficult challenge of extricating themselves from their dependence on alcohol or other substances cannot be exaggerated.  To return a recovering addict to the very community where she or he first turned to drugs or alcohol can be fatal to the student’s hard-won beginnings of a drug or alcohol-free life.  There is usually a marginal group of peers who are all too ready to welcome the recovering addict back into their midst, and the problems that drove the student into use and abuse of substances in the first place are all too ready to reemerge, sometimes with even greater force than before.

Recovery High Schools offer those students a faculty and service providers with a specialized understanding of the drives and causes of a student’s dependence on alcohol and/or other drugs and the structure and therapeutic resources necessary to help the student, in the company of other students with the same personal mission, to gather him- or herself for the long haul without recourse to the substances.

The students who can get to a Recovery High School can benefit tremendously.  However, a glaring omission in the Recovery High School statute prevents some students who urgently need such a resource from being able to enroll.  While the statute requires school districts to pay tuition based on an average per pupil rate for any student who enrolls at a Recovery High School, and while foundation funding is provided for such schools through the Department of Public Health, there is no provision for transportation to and from a Recovery High School.  Thus in the areas surround each of the four currently established Recovery High Schools there are a number of otherwise eligible students who cannot get to and from the program for lack of transportation.

Students who attend vocational-technical schools outside of their districts are provided with transportation, as are students who attend charter schools or private special education schools under IEPs, but students who need access to a Recovery High School and who cannot secure a reliable way to get to and from that school must go without.

Fortunately, a legislative initiative to erase this anomaly is building as we post this note, led by Representatives Tom Sannicandro (Framingham and Ashland; Chair of Joint Committee on Higher Education) and Liz Malia (Jamaica Plain, Chair of Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse).   They and a growing number of legislators alert to the problem are moving to amend the law to provide for transportation and advocating for an appropriation to support the costs of that service.

You can help by letting your State Representative and State Senator know that you would like them to support this initiative.  It would require a relatively modest investment to make transportation available for those who need it to and from Recovery High Schools; the potential benefit in the lives of kids who are making serious efforts to recover from alcohol or substance dependence or addiction and who are at tremendous risk of falling back without access to such a resource is beyond price.  You can identify and find how to contact your Representative at Ask your Representative to sign on to the Sannicandro letter for Recovery High School Transportation.

Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.


4 thoughts on “Recovery High Schools: Fixing an Anomaly

  1. Pingback: Recovery High Schools – Legislation to Add Transportation Now in the Works | Special Education Today

  2. Pingback: Recovery High Schools: Bill to provide transportation is now up for Hearing | Special Education Today

  3. The DSM-V provides for new medical diagnoses for those with substance abuse problems. SSDI is granted for those with substance addiction when it arises to the level of being disabling. Those students enrolling in these programs have presumably experienced their illness at a disabling level. I wonder then – is the failure to provide transportation to enable enrollment discrimination? In particular, I wonder if this is true when the student is coming from a district where transportation is provided to all regular education children to enable their enrollment in public school? I applaud and support the legislative efforts to remedy the disparity. However, perhaps acting upon this apparent disability discrimination via a lawsuit would bring swifter, more just, resolution to the issue?

  4. These schools have transformed, perhaps saved, lives. Helping teenagers with substance abuse can make a huge difference in their life trajectory. Funding transportation so that every student can get to a school is essential.

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