Parents Forced To Attend Opioid Seminar In Exchange For Graduation Tickets

By Paul Gaita 03/23/18

Parents are split over the superintendent's controversial decision to hold the required one-hour seminar.

Mother hugging a graduate

A school superintendent in New Jersey's Middlesex County has taken a controversial step towards ensuring that parents of his district's students are armed with information about the national opioid crisis.

Superintendent David Cittadino informed parents and guardians of eighth grade students of Old Bridge Township Public Schools that if they wished to attend their child's graduation, they must attend a seminar on opioid use and dependency.

Responses from the parents were mixed, but Cittadino said the requirement has one goal, to "save lives in our community," as he told WCBS-TV.

Cittadino has hosted optional seminars about opioids in the past, but said that turnout was low for such events. A recent tragedy involving one of his district students convinced him to take more drastic steps to get the word out to families about the epidemic.

"A parent of one of our elementary students passed away to opioid addiction. An overdose," he said. "At the end of the day, a first grade little girl is going to go home to a house that doesn't have a mother. And you know I'm going to say, 'What could we have done better?'"

To that end, Cittadino sent home a letter with his eighth-grade students which informed their parents about the graduation requirement: to receive tickets for the event, a representative from their household must attend a one-hour seminar on opioid dependency, which would take place on three separate nights in April.

The seminar, titled Hidden in Plain Sight, and led by a former DEA official, would provide parents and guardians with help to "find signs and signals [of opioid abuse] that they may not have already known," said Cittadino.

Some parents, like Jairo Collantes, told WCBS-TV that they considered the requirement unnecessary. "You shouldn’t be obligated to attend any seminar that needs to happen in order for the parent or guardian to attend a graduation," he said. But others approved of the measure, despite the imposition. 

"I don't know the signs," said Antonella Coco. "I think it's a great thing that they're having the meeting." Middle School PTA presidents Francine Miraglia and Joanne Cavanagh also voiced their support for the seminars. "I wish they would have had this last year, when my son graduated," said Cavanagh. "I was very naïve in middle school that all this was really even happening."

For Cittadino, the seminars will hopefully provide some attendees with crucial information about the dangers their children are facing due to the opioid epidemic. "The more people we educate, the more impact it's going to have," he said. He acknowledged that the requirement may be an imposition, but noted that the situation called for such a decision.

"I have to do something drastic," he said. "I find myself attending funeral services for students that I was their principal in middle school and high school, and each one takes more and more of a toll on me."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.