Laura Bryant, district nurse, talks to the School Board at its Thursday meeting about fentanyl and how Narcan can reverse the effects of an overdose. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath School Board approved at Thursday night’s meeting a request by the school district’s nurse to stock a specific medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. The medication, called naloxone, will become available at all schools in the district.

Laura Bryant, district nurse, gave an informative slide presentation about the dangers of synthetic opioids, specifically illicit fentanyl, which is said to be 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and much cheaper to manufacture.

“With fentanyl being so readily available, especially on the West Coast, it seems like a very common sense move for the district,” Bryant said.

According to a National Center for Health Statistics report, Oregon overdose deaths last year increased 41%, much higher than the national average of 16%. The national advocacy group, Families Against Fentanyl, analyzed national data and determined that fentanyl overdose is now the leading cause of death in young adults.

The medication is commonly referred to as Narcan, which is a brand name for a device that delivers naloxone as a nasal spray.

“It can reverse an opioid overdose really quickly,” Bryant said. “So you can have a student who is barely breathing and you give them a squirt of that and it can reverse that in just a matter of a couple of minutes.”

Bryant explained that if a user overdoses on opioids, one of the major effects is a slowdown of respiration to the point of a person not breathing, which can be fatal.

Narcan is not a controlled substance and is available without a prescription, Bryant said. The school can store it at room temperature.

“It’s not addictive and it’s not going to harm somebody if they are passed out for a different reason,” Bryant explained. “If you gave them Narcan thinking, ‘oh, they have a history of drug abuse’ and it turns out that wasn’t the reason that they were passed out, it’s not going to harm them.”

Bryant said she feels pretty strongly that high schools should have the medication on hand and added that “the state and the county are both sort of pushing us in that direction.”

Rick Wells, School Board chair, said the high school makes most sense for naloxone to be available but suggested that it go to the other schools as well.

“If you have an adult that comes in and has a problem, it may be nice to have it at the other schools just for that specific purpose,” Wells said. “I mean, you wouldn’t think an elementary student would have a need for it but then I don’t know.”

Bryant said she agreed 100%.

“I just thought at the very least, I want to get it at the high school and if we can attain it for the other schools, I think it would be a good idea,” she said.

As far as the cost, Bryant said there is a program that will make Narcan available to the high school at no charge. But even for campuses that will require a purchase, Bryant priced it out to about $50 for a pack of two.

Appropriate staff members will be trained on an annual basis on how to administer the anti-overdose medication.

The vote to approve of the move passed unanimously.

• PHS senior Dylan Bell during a student report announced that Abigail Brown and Brooke Moade had been voted in Thursday as Associated Student Body co-presidents for next academic year.

• Dick Powell provided the board with an overview of Oregon Natural Resources Education Fund programs, including information about a subfund named in memory of Terry Selby, a Philomath High forestry teacher who died in 2002. 

• Wells gave a quick update on the evaluation process for the superintendent. Wells said the board is going through questionnaires that were sent out to staff and hopes to have a final report by the June meeting.

• The board unanimously approved new elementary school reading and writing curriculum following a recommendation that came out of a literacy adoption committee. Abby Couture, Clemens Primary principal, Bryan Traylor, Philomath Elementary and Blodgett School principal, and Molly Bell, K-5 response to intervention teacher, shared details of the proposed curriculum with the board. The curriculum is scheduled to be implemented in K-1 this fall through a pilot program and in grades 2-5 in the fall of 2023. The board’s approval included K-1 at a cost of nearly $65,000 — a number that could change based on student enrollment. Halliday said the district’s budget allows for the expense.

• The board approved a motion related to Philomath Academy’s annual state compliance requirements as an alternative learning program. The board also approved the academy’s transition to a singular curriculum platform based on a recommendation from Philomath Academy Principal Dan Johnson.

• Halliday updated the board about ongoing charter agreement talks with Kings Valley Charter School. Language related to the funding mechanism for special education services has been an issue that’s slowed the process. Another section on third-party contracts has also been worked on. The board by consensus committed to approval of the charter conceptually but will review the document in full at the June meeting and take a formal vote at that time.

• The district’s bargaining with the classified employees union has slowed because of a change related to its representative. Halliday expects meeting dates soon with the process getting back on track.

• Halliday provided an update on the state’s COVID-related guidance, reporting that each district will be required to establish a management plan to be posted on its website and to send the Oregon Department of Education a document of assurances by Aug. 26. Halliday said the district will start with last year’s plan and update with “subtle nuances.” She said the district is hoping to start the 2022-23 academic year in the same manner as it’s currently operating.

• The board unanimously approved a motion to keep the proposed local option levy renewal at the same rate. Budget Committee member Christopher McMorran provided various pieces of information, including how school districts across the state fared for local option levies in the recent election. Corvallis was among the six of 15 in Oregon that voters approved. McMorran said June 6 is the earliest date to file a request for ballot title for the Nov. 8 general election. 

• The board approved a consent agenda that included several personnel moves. Resignations include longtime dance coach Lori Haslam and various assistants — Loren Rogers (girls soccer), Justin Marshall (football), Shane Stueve (football) and Kayley Kildea (dance). Lillian Edmonds, the district’s executive administrative assistant, will be retiring effective Sept. 30. New hires approved include PHS principal Mark Henderson, Special Programs Director Cynthia Barthuly, PHS math teacher Amber Vaughn, PHS science teacher Jessica Carr, PMS RTI teacher Nancy Thompson, K-6 music teacher Hailey Vandewiele and head volleyball coach Autumn Hilberg. In addition, Grace Spaulding was approved as the summer program coordinator.

• Also as part of the consent agenda, the board approved a resolution related to $425,500 in additional funding through the federal National School Lunch Program. Although the money goes to the school district, it is sent directly to the Corvallis School District, which is contracted to provide food services to Philomath.

• The board approved the second reading of two policy revisions related to suspected sexual conduct with students reporting requirements and procedures.

• Wells reported that self-evaluation training from the state now carries a $500 price tag, which he believes is expensive for what Philomath needs. Self-evaluations are not required, but the board still sees value in the process. Members indicated they will consider other less-expensive options.

• The board plans to participate in a retreat at 5:30 p.m. on May 25 in the school district office’s board room. The meeting is open to the public as a listening session.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.