Durango school board says students should be allowed to carry Narcan
This story is part of a series produced by Voices From The Edge of the Colorado Plateau—a collaborative news initiative from KSUT Public Radio in Ignacio, CO, and KSJD Community Radio in Cortez, CO.
On Tuesday night, Durango's 9R Board of Education voted 4 to 1 to implement measures allowing students to carry Narcan during the school day. (Narcan is a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.)
The motion authorizes 9R District Superintendent Karen Cheser to move forward with the policy change. A draft policy released in February calls for guidelines and restrictions: before carrying Narcan, students and their parents would need to sign waivers; students would also be required to attend training workshops and follow established protocols.
It was a victory for teen harm reduction activists who started pushing for policy changes a year ago following the 2021 fatal overdose of one high school student in Durango. After months of behind-the-scenes conversations with district administrators and board members, students launched a public campaign in January.
During school board meetings, district administrators expressed hesitation about the proposed change, citing concerns about student safety, adequate training, and legal liability. Allowing students to carry and potentially administer Narcan could place a minor in circumstances that a trained adult typically handles.
On Tuesday night, board members deliberated for more than 30 minutes while student activists in attendance held up signs and recorded video of the proceedings on their phones.
9R Board President Kristin Smith was the lone dissenting vote. During her remarks, Smith said that students shouldn’t need to carry Narcan in schools.
“I want students to know if they need medical help, there are adults there and they are trained for this, and they're there for you,” she said. “I don't want students to have that burden of feeling like they're the only ones that can save each other in these kinds of instances.”
9R Board member Katie Stewart revealed she was undecided when she arrived at the meeting last night. But Stewart was moved by the conviction of teenagers.
“You were brave to stand up for your fellow students in the community. So I have decided to be brave with you,” Stewart said, addressing the student activists in the meeting chambers. “(We need to) solve this problem to make sure that there's not another victim in our community. So as long as we have some appropriate guardrails, which I think (Superintendent Karen) Cheser is intent on having, I'm ready to be brave.
After the vote, Durango high school senior Ilias Stritikus was smiling. Stritikus is one of the leaders of the student movement.
“It's incredible,” he said. “It's been something I've been working on for more than a year. So I'm incredibly excited. This is an awesome, momentous step. (A) huge shout out to Durango 9-R for taking this risk.”
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