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Duval Sober High School Up and Running

Lindsey Kilbride

Duval County high school students who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction can now go to a special “sober school.”

It’s the only recovery school in the Southeast, and one of almost 40 in the country.

Duval County doesn’t have much data on teens who do drugs or drink, other than what they admit through anonymous surveys. About 30 percent of high schoolers say they drink, a quarter have smoked marijuana, and roughly one in 10 students say they’ve used prescription drugs without a prescription. When middle schoolers answered the same survey, 12 percent said they had their first drink of alcohol before age 11.

Five students are already attending Duval’s new River Oak Recovery Center program. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said it’s free to students, which is important, because some parents or students might not be able to pay for treatment otherwise.

Vitti said aside from the new sober school, the district didn’t offer students struggling with addiction many options other than an evening program, mostly reserved for students who were caught with drugs at school, or referrals for outside treatment.

River Oak students take their classes online, with the help of an in-person teacher along with counseling and peer group support meetings.

The school operates out of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Arlington. And while it’s not affiliated with religion, it does follow the 12-step recovery model that includes spirituality, according to the school’s handbook.

The school is mostly funded through private donors, state and federal programs. The district provides the teachers and counselor. Vitti said once more students start attending the program, the district will be able to hire more teachers using per-student state dollars called “Full-time Equivalent funding.”

While there’ isn’t a lot of research on recovery schools, a 2009 study evaluating 17 of the programs showed just over half the students were drug and alcohol free after 90 days in the program, and had fewer mental health issues like depression.

Vitti said removing students from the stress and temptations of a normal high school environment is important for the recovery process.

“What often happens is the student who is trying to overcome the addiction actually finds it more difficult to be in the regular learning environment because there are other students that are experimenting or curious about drug use or alcohol use,” Vitti said.“

He said recovery schools offer support from peers and teachers are sympathetic to addiction-related challenges.  

Vitti said recovery school is completely voluntary, the district won’t send students there.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.