Jack Kramer photo
Victor Alfandre, who teaches students in a recovery school setting at Masuk High School in Monroe. (Jack Kramer photo)

HARTFORD, CT –  Proponents of funding a recovery high school in Connecticut are setting a goal of launching some sort of pilot program in time for the start of the 2017 school year.

Some of those proponents got together Wednesday, and at a three-hour meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford mapped out strategies to try and get state legislators on board.

The session on recovery schools, which are secondary schools designed specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency, was one of several that have been held on the subject the past few years.

The group Wednesday agreed, according to Teresa Spencer, a registered nurse who is organizing the group’s meetings “to prepare a document in a two-week time frame’’ that will be used as “a proposal for the legislature to support a bill for a recovery high school in Connecticut.’’

Spencer told others at Wednesday’s meeting that when and if there is a legislative public hearing on recovery schools in the upcoming General Assembly session, “We need to fill the room’’ with advocates.

“We also need to find alternate funding options anywhere we can,’’ added Spencer.

Spencer worked as an intern for Rep. Theresa Conroy, D-Seymour, who has been a big proponent of starting a recovery high school program in the state.

Conroy, however, was defeated in her attempt to win re-election by Republican Nicole Klarides-Ditria.

Spencer said she will now be interning with Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who also has been a proponent of recovery high schools, and was in attendance, along with Conroy at Wednesday’s meeting.

One of the speakers at Wednesday’s meeting was Victor Alfandre, who teaches students in a recovery school setting at Masuk High School in Monroe.

“We need to produce a plan that uses existing resources,” Alfandre told others at the meeting. “We need a plan that doesn’t spend money.”

Alfandre said he thinks there is “a perfect storm opportunity” for the recovery school initiative in the upcoming legislative session.

He said that everyone knows the state of Connecticut is in a financial crisis. Because of that crisis, Alfandre added, there has been talk recently that Connecticut should join the growing list of states that legalizes recreational marijuana, reaping a huge tax windfall.

“With the stroke of a pen we could use tax revenue from legalizing marijuana to provide needed funding for recovery schools,” Alfandre said.

Another participant in the discussion was Andy Buccaro, executive director of Project Courage, an agency specializing in mental health and substance abuse related issues, with a focus on adolescents.

Buccaro said while he understands the concern about costs, it also roils him, stating young people with substance abuse issues should be treated with the same care as people with other diseases.

“Look what we are able to do to treat a kid who has autism,” Buccaro said. “We don’t even talk about substance abuse. We don’t even acknowledge it. So how can there be funding (to treat it).”

Jack Kramer photo
Andrew Buccaro addresses the panel (Jack Kramer photo)

One of those in attendance at the session was Clint Morgan, who runs a mountain biking program called “Breaking The Cycle” in the Hartford area for teens recovering from alcohol or substance abuse.

“The time is absolutely right,’’ Morgan said.

Across the country, there are 36 recovery high schools, ranging in size from 30 to 100 students. The nearest recovery high schools are in Massachusetts, which has five.

But in Connecticut, attempts to fund recovery high schools haven’t made it through the Education Committee in the last two legislative sessions.

Talk about renewing the recovery high school effort in the General Assembly have resurfaced in recent weeks after repeated sold-out showings of a film called Generation Found.

Generation Found was co-directed by Jeff Reilly, a Guilford native and Newtown High School graduate Greg Williams, a recovery advocate who last year launched the nation’s first big-budget addiction organization with a Westport businessman whose son died of a drug overdose.

The film makes the case that recovery high schools — in conjunction with support programs for teens on nights and weekends — can make a difference when other treatment attempts have failed.

Also fueling the momentum for the recovery school initiative is the fact that overall, in 2015, there were 697 opioid-involved deaths in the state of Connecticut.

At a recent session on drug abuse at Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Dayton told the audience Connecticut is tracking a record 888 overdose deaths for the entire 2016 calendar year.

Although each school operates differently depending on available community resources and state standards, each recovery high school shares the following goals:

—To educate all available and eligible students who are in recovery from substance use disorder or co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder;

—To meet state requirements for awarding a secondary school diploma;

—To support students in working a strong program of recovery.

The staff of recovery high schools most often includes administrative staff, teachers, substance abuse counselors, and mental health professionals that each play a critical role in supporting the students.

Additionally, recovery schools provide support for families learning to how to live with, and provide support for, their teens entering into the recovery lifestyle.