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Lee Schools Begin Substance Abuse Prevention Program

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Public Domain/jarmoluk on
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Lee County School District is starting a substance abuse intervention program just in time for the new school year, which began Thursday, Aug. 10. Instead of being suspended or sent to an alternative school, kids can go through this program for a first recorded incident with drugs or alcohol on school property. 

The nonprofit Hanley Foundation awarded Lee schools with $450,000 for the year to prevent substance abuse in middle and high school students. The foundation received the money from the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network. Kevin Mace is Hanley Foundation’s regional coordinator in Lee County. He said six new staff members were hired to work in all three Lee school zones.

If a student gets in trouble for the first time with drugs or alcohol on school grounds, Mace said the student can then volunteer to go through three intensive sessions during school hours to help stop the substance use. He said the goal is to prevent kids from missing classes when either suspended or sent to an alternative school.

"If that happens twice in a student's school year, the chances of that student graduating are virtually zero," said Mace. "So what we're trying to do is to keep a child in their home school, provide intervention and prevention, and continue to expand that service so that we can help every student that needs that help."

Last school year, less than half a percent of incident reports in Lee schools had to do with drugs or alcohol. That’s only 292 cases out of more than 70,000 incidents. Although the number is low, Sara Thompson with the Lee School District said this new voluntary program is important.

"If they get caught, we want to work with them before the problem gets bigger," she said. "We wanna see all of these kids just soar."

Thompson said she’ll be monitoring data moving forward. She plans to document recidivism rates in Lee kids who choose to do the program versus ones who do not. 

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.