As the North Shore School District prepares for the first day of school on Sept. 6, the Board of Education still has several concerns about PreVenture, a Canadian program that evaluates students’ personalities to help them learn to cope with stress and reduce drug and alcohol use.
After postponing discussion about the program at its July 5 meeting, the board left the item off the Aug. 24 session’s agenda to avoid a vote on it.
It did come up during the superintendent’s report, and then there was much discussion, which included comments by audience members.
Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo — who began his tenure with North Shore Schools on Aug. 21 — met with PreVenture representatives on Monday to learn more about the program, which has never been used by an American school district.
“We really want to dig into what
we need to know about the program, get questions answered, bring them back to the board, and then we can make our determination,” Giarrizzo said.
Trustee Marianne Russo agreed that the board should gather more information before moving forward. “I’m very concerned about privacy, and I’m very concerned about the lack of data,” she said. “We’re not health-care providers, so we shouldn’t be making this decision on our own. The concerns just go on and on.”
Russo added that the board should look into implementing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy workshops instead. She said her own children have taken part in CBT workshops in college, and found that the techniques they learned to deal with stress and anxiety have been helpful. While she thinks that the concept of training adolescent students to cope with these issues is critical, she said she does not believe PreVenture is the best option for doing so.
“The concept of this program just seems totally wrong to me,” said Robin Zeller, a Glen Head resident. “Many people who live here work for the district, and from what I understand about the program, if you take part in their surveys and you identify children who are participating in that workshop, that person’s confidentiality will be breached.”
Zeller also said that lawsuits could be brought because of confidentiality breaches. “We might win them, but we all lose in the end,” she said. “The only people who will win are the lawyers.”
Lisa Vizza, a co-president of the district’s Coordinated Parents Council, thanked the board for considering ways to alleviate stress and anxiety among students, but also said she believes that there are better options than PreVenture.
“One of our professional ethics is you do no harm,” she said. “I think there are other programs that have been proven in the United States. We can embed those skills from CBT into our education.”
Vizza added that being a student in a high-performing district, while it has its advantages, can also be stressful. Instead of limiting health education to high school freshmen, she said, the subject should be taught at all grade levels.
“There’s a lot of challenges every year in adolescent development that can occur,” she said. “Maybe [the board] can consider looking at the health curriculum in a broader perspective. That might be a better approach.”
Trustee Herman Berliner told Giarrizzo that he could contact Northwell Health officials about providing expertise on children and mental health. Trustee David Ludmar added that the board’s decision to seek more information about the program before voting on it was smart.
“I think what we all felt was that since we have new administration coming in, and we have new people looking into this program, we’re certainly not ready to proceed,” Ludmar said.
Giarrizzo will report his findings to the board at its next meeting on Sept. 14, at 7:30, in the North Shore High School library.