Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced in a news release that he was in support of a House bill “that makes opioid education mandatory in schools.”
Making good life choices should be a part of our children’s education; so too should be learning about the dangers of certain substances on a person’s mental and physical well-being. Still, something about this particular legislation gives me pause.
It’s no secret that opioids have struck disproportionately at white communities, sucking in suburban moms, working-class dads as well as educated sons and daughters.
Meanwhile crack cocaine, popular in the 1980s and early ‘90s, caused most of its suffering in Black, often low-income, communities — leaving untold numbers of children parentless and changing once-proud and tight-knit neighborhoods into war zones.
For crack sufferers, there was no compassion, no sense of understanding, no mandated education about it in schools. There was usually addicts being placed in jail cells with decades-long sentences, reflecting a simplistic remedy to lock up and throw away crack cocaine victims.
Supporting HB1190 is not solely the domain of white legislators. In fact, it was introduced by African-American state Rep. Joanna McClinton, whose 191st Legislative District comprises Philadelphia and Delaware counties.
“The time is now that we get ahead of the opioid epidemic,” read a quote from McClinton in the governor’s news release. “Overdoses are rampant among our children and young adults. This bill will create a prevention and intervention program that will be taught in schools across the commonwealth to students in every grade.”
It would require the Department of Education to work with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs “to provide guidance and recommendations designed to help school districts with the development and implementation of research-based curriculum guidelines for an effective age-appropriate, school-based program of instruction in substance abuse prevention and intervention,” according to the governor’s news release.
The release notes that school districts are already required to “provide age-appropriate information about alcohol, tobacc, and other drugs for students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 12 as part of Pennsylvania’s Academic Standards for Health, Safety & Physical Education.”
It said the proposed HB1190 would “mandate instruction in all grades and would expand the scope of K-12 education regarding substance use and abuse in the commonwealth.”
As Pennsylvanians, we should all be in favor of measures that make our fellow residents healthy, well-adjusted citizens.
But let’s also hope that part of the lesson in our schools will be a look at how society, government and the criminal justice system has responded to different groups who have suffered the negative direct and indirect effects of drug use. Pain and sorrow never was and never will be a Black or white thing.
Sheila Simmons is deputy managing editor of The Philadelphia Tribune, and author of “Memoir of a Minnie Riperton Fan.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 893-5843.