Back-to-school safety campaigns now include opioid warnings

FARGO-Kids are back in school, so watch for them crossing streets, and coming and going from school buses and bus stops.And if you're a parent, educators and law enforcement officials suggest now is a good time to talk to your kids about somethin...

FARGO-Kids are back in school, so watch for them crossing streets, and coming and going from school buses and bus stops.

And if you're a parent, educators and law enforcement officials suggest now is a good time to talk to your kids about something that might someday save their life-avoiding drug abuse.

The message is a follow-up to one that students and their families heard last spring, when the region's opioid epidemic was taking lives and grabbing headlines.

"We did this last spring and now we're doing it again this fall to remind parents these things are present in our community," said Jeff Schatz, superintendent for Fargo Public Schools.

As he did earlier this year, Schatz is sending emails to district families alerting them to the growing use of opioids and making them aware the threat extends to school-age kids.

Schatz encourages parents and guardians to talk with their children about opioid use. The emails provide information on where families can find educational resources.

The emails also provide contact information for school officials and school resource officers, and include "Text-A-Tip" phone numbers for reporting opioid use or concerns.

This week, Fargo South High School is hosting an "Arms Wide Open" community forum on the area's opiate/heroin crisis from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, at the school, 1840 15th Ave. S.

Drug awareness outreach efforts are also happening in Moorhead, where schools starts on Tuesday, Sept. 6, said Moorhead Police Lt. Tory Jacobson.

It's crucial, he said, "To not ignore the fact we know this stuff is out there and try to encourage those conversations with parents and children of all ages that are old enough to understand the dangers associated with this type of situation."

Even if families aren't experiencing problems now, Jacobson said early conversations can build a foundation that makes it easier for communication to happen if the time comes.

"You've erased those barriers," he said.

As part of Moorhead's drug awareness efforts, orientation sessions for Moorhead High School students and parents included a short presentation by the student assistance counselor, who provided reminders on what to be aware of and who to contact for assistance if an issue arises.

Those contacts include Moorhead High's student assistance counseling program and school resource officer.

While drugs remain a concern for area educators and law enforcement, officials stressed that the more traditional back-to-school safety messages remain important.

"When you come upon a school bus with red lights flashing, you should be stopping 20 feet from that bus," said Dan Bacon, director of transportation for Moorhead Public Schools. "We want everybody to be very aware of students walking to and from bus stops, and to be real careful out there."

Moorhead police Lt. Deric Swenson said that as students return to classes this week, traffic enforcement in Moorhead and throughout Clay County will focus on four things:

• Making sure drivers come to complete stops at stop signs.

• Keeping speeds under posted limits.

• Enforcing rules regarding the use of seat belts.

• Enforcing prohibitions on texting and driving.

With the large number of road construction projects happening in the Moorhead area Swenson also urged parents to plan ahead when they drive kids to school.

Running a stop sign or speeding through a school zone "Isn't the way to cut those minutes," he said.

Although he didn't provide a specific time frame, Swenson said area law enforcement officers will soon be conducting another campaign to crack down on distracted driving similar to past efforts in which officers rode buses to identify people who were texting while driving.

Officials in West Fargo are also focusing on things like school bus safety and encouraging parents to view the back-to-school season as an opportunity to talk with kids about dangers they may encounter in the bigger world, including drug abuse.

If parents are stumped about how to go about that, West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan suggests they visit www.parentslead.org, a website that offers tips on setting up those conversations.

"They have scripts on how to go about bringing up the subject and they're age-appropriate messages," said Reitan, who also stressed the need for drivers to be aware of school buses and the consequences of not giving buses the space they require when their lights are flashing and stop arms are extended.

For adults, a violation means a $100 fine and six points on their driving record, which puts a driver halfway to getting their license suspended, Reitan said.

If a driver is under 18, a single school bus violation can mean suspension of their driving privileges, Reitan added.