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Legislative bill would help DL recovery school stay open

The state that pioneered the recovery school movement, and once boasted a baker’s dozen of these so-called “sober high schools” within its borders, is now struggling to keep them open.

This year, there are but four such schools still operating in Minnesota, with one of them being located at Detroit Lakes.

Minnesota State Rep. Paul Marquart, chair of the House’s education finance committee, is doing his best to reverse that trend.

Marquart recently helped introduce a provision in the newly-unveiled 2014 House omnibus education bill that included a $500,000 funding increase for recovery schools in the state, or about $125,000 per school.

“This funding is important,” Marquart said late Thursday, “and provides recovery schools the resources to help turn a student’s life around who is recovering from substance abuse or dependency.”

In Detroit Lakes, the recovery school program is part of the Area Learning Center, located on the top floor of the Historic Holmes Theatre complex.

Its principal, Lisa Weber — who is also acting principal of Detroit Lakes High School — said that she was excited to see that lobbying efforts on behalf of recovery schools by the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs were beginning to pay off.

“It will benefit a lot of our area students and families,” she said.

“Rep. Marquart has been very supportive of our district, and supportive of our ALC and recovery school,” Weber said. “We’re excited that this (recovery school funding) is part of the education bill.”

“We were surprised — pleasantly so — by that piece of legislation,” said Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke.

The reason why this funding is so crucial, Froke added, is that inconsistent enrollment patterns — due to the fact that students in the recovery school program are dealing with complex chemical dependency issues — make it difficult to maintain a consistent funding base.

“Research has shown that these recovery school programs are effective,” Froke added. “That’s why we’re seeing the effort by the Minnesota Legislature — at least on the House side — to try and put some money in to help these programs continue to do the work they’ve done.”

During the alternative learning program’s heyday in Minnesota, when there were a baker’s dozen of recovery schools in operation within its borders, “we were able to prove that they were successful in increasing graduation rates among students who were struggling with chemical addiction and abuse,” said Weber.

“One of the things our legislators need to look at is why our recovery schools are struggling to stay open,” she added. “It’s not because we don’t have the students.”

One of the main problems, Weber said, lies in the fact that students in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction will frequently relapse, and have difficulty staying in school while they are dealing with those issues.

Those enrollment fluctuations make it difficult to maintain a consistent funding stream, she explained. Because of that, “to keep a licensed addiction counselor on staff is a challenge,” Weber said.

“We are very fortunate to be one of the four school districts in the state that has a recovery school,” she added.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454