Plans for a recovery school unveiled

Sunday March 20, 2011

ROCKLAND -- Photos of a smiling Liz LeFort splashed across a screen as her mother spoke of everything the young woman accomplished.

She was a cheerleader and youth coach. She ranked 10th in her senior class at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School. She earned a scholarship. She loved and was loved.

"She had it all -- beauty, talent, smarts," her mother, Janis McGrory, told a room of more than 100 area legislators, educators and law enforcement officials Friday. "But she not only graduated from high school. She graduated from using OxyContin to shooting heroin."

LeFort, 23, died Jan. 6 of a heroin overdose.

"If it can happen to her," her mother said, "it can happen to anybody."

And it is that message -- drug addiction can happen to anybody -- that Brockton school officials and members of the North River Collaborative wanted everyone to know at a conference Friday, where they unveiled plans for a recovery high school in southeastern Massachusetts.

The school would serve students recovering from drug abuse and dependence, and it would be modeled after three others in the state -- one in Springfield, one in Boston and one in Beverly.

Recovery schools are based on the premise that young addicts are likely to relapse if they return to their old high school while in recovery. The new school would combine academics with a recovery culture that includes counseling for students and families, said Bill Carpenter, a Brockton School Committee member who serves on the collaborative's task force.

Carpenter, whose son is a recovering heroin addict, also addressed the crowd. As did state Sen. Steven Tolman, D-Brighton, who provided an emotional speech calling for state representatives to act now to address a major need on the South Shore.

"I used to say it's an arm's length away," Tolman said of drug use among youths. "Now it's in our pockets.

"Get this thing up and running!" he implored of the crowd. "Somewhere we'll find that money. There is nothing more important. They're our children."

Motivation, officials said, isn't an obstacle in the effort to join Beverly, Boston and Springfield as areas with schools. But funding is.

The state Department of Public Health awarded $500,000 grants to each of the three other recovery schools nearly five years ago. All are up for renewal this year.

The collaborative's proposal requests that same amount, even though it lacks a site.

The $500,000 would handle start-up costs, Brockton school superintendent Matthew Malone said. Operational costs would be covered largely by the contributions of the school district sending the student. Those could range between $10,000 and $15,000 per student, Malone said.

"In a perfect world, it shouldn't be difficult at all [to receive grant money] because it's something that absolutely, positively has to be done," state Rep. John F. Keenan, D-Quincy, chair of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said.

Malone said sites in Rockland, Raynham, Bridgewater and Brockton are being considered for the school. Brockton, he said, has a central location in the region and has good access to public transportation.

Officials expect the state to issue its request for a proposal in the next month.

Such a school may have helped LeFort fight her addiction, her mother said.

"She was in over her head in high school, and I didn't realize that," McGrory said. "She went back into school and continued to use.

"We can't ignore it anymore."


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