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School Straight Talk For Red Ribbon Week

The timelines of Oakdale Joint Unified School District’s observance of Red Ribbon Week(s) later this month could not be more timely. Due to scheduling conflicts, the OJUSD primary schools will host Red Ribbon Week from Oct. 17 to 24, while the secondary campuses will observe events the week of Oct. 24 to Oct. 28.

With increased news coverage of vaping, e-cigarettes, fentanyl and TikTok challenges, the staff of OJUSD has their hands full. While TikTok challenges are not an item which will be covered later this month, they are cause for disruption to the learning process.

“TikTok challenges have been educationally disruptive,” Larry Mendonca, Deputy Superintendent Pupil Services, stated. “Disciplinary measures are applied to students who are found to establish or promote incidents that cause disruption or safety concerns at school.”

Mendonca additionally shared parent guidance and involvement with recognizing and counseling the student about such negative influences is also important.

“Ultimately these kinds of challenges potentially force schools to close access for repairs, or sometimes having to restrict activities in the interest of student safety,” Mendonca continued.

While data obtained through a California Healthy Kids Survey doesn’t show much change in trend with drugs and alcohol used among students from 2018 to 2021, education and awareness continue to be a driving force of OJUSD.

“No huge spikes in one direction or another,” Armida Colon, Director of State and Federal Programs, said of the survey. “I see that as a positive.”

“It’s Junior High and High School, which is concerning. It’s not just the high school anymore,” Colon continued regarding vaping and e-cigarettes.

She further shared that during the RRW events in addition to the dress up days and education had through fun theme days, certain topics are seen as necessary to discuss with students.

At the elementary level there will be two mini lessons for fourth through sixth grades where they will discuss e-cigarettes and vaping. What are they and why are they harmful.

The secondary sites will provide a more expanded lesson on the same topics. Fentanyl will also be discussed with students at the secondary campuses. An addition, Colon shared, which was just made recently as a result of its increased attention.

“This year we added a third one, facts about Fentanyl,” she said. “Because of all of the attention around this topic it’s important for us to roll out information clarifying with our students: what is fentanyl? what does it look like? how do you access it? etc., etc.”

Fentanyl is known to be highly addictive which is what prompts some suppliers to lace drugs with fentanyl. It keeps the unknowing customer coming back to the highly addictive drug.

“One of the greatest concerns around fentanyl is that you don’t even know if you’re going to get it. You could be purchasing one thing and you end up with something else,” Colon pointed out, making note of recreational drug use and what might be obtained from a dealer. “That’s probably the scariest aspect of this particular drug. It’s odorless, it’s flavorless and you don’t know if you’re going to get it in whatever you’re purchasing.”

Mendonca stated to date, there are no confirmed cases with fentanyl at the OJUSD campuses.

“We are prepared with information going out to families and staff about fentanyl,” Mendonca shared, “recognizing signs of being under the influence or overdosing and responsive measures including emergency administration of an opioid antagonist by trained health staff.

“Since it’s available in such high concentrations it could be very damaging and of course deadly,” Colon added.

And while fentanyl may be the current buzz and concern in the media, Colon shared there is still concern for students and educating them on the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes. She said personally, she feels that students do not realize how harmful they may be.

“Because it tastes like candy, it doesn’t smell like cigarettes, doesn’t make them cough as much; gives a false sense of security,” she said, adding that it may take many years for the data to be compiled to show the harmful effects of the products which do not have FDA approval.

“I think there’s still a lot to be seen. I think the scariest thing in all of this, is that it does not seem threatening in all the ways that tobacco did,” Colon said.

Ultimately when it comes to educating the fourth through 12th grade students on the topics, Colon shared it’s strictly straight talk, no sugar coating the topics or effects.

“If we can touch even one student, then that’s a success,” Colon said. “Some kids really have no idea, because it does seem harmless.”