One of Minnesota’s few remaining sober schools is expanding its support services for recovering drug addicts from classrooms to chat rooms.

Peers Enjoying a Sober Education (P.E.A.S.E.) Academy, one of four sober schools still operating in a state that was once considered the national model for recovery education, partnered with Minnesota Virtual High School this past semester.

Students and their families from across the state can now use online forums to communicate with chemical dependency counselors and social workers at the Academy’s brick and mortar location in Minneapolis. The Virtual High School provides the online academic curriculum.

“(The Virtual High School) built us a platform where we can provide virtual support to our students regardless of where they live,” said Michael Durchslag, the Executive Director at P.E.A.S.E., which began operating in 1989 at a time when districts all over Minnesota offered recovery based schools.

But sober schools struggled to maintain sustainable operating systems and enrollments, according to a former director of alcohol and drug abuse at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).

“One of the challenges over the years with sober schools in Minnesota was finding out how you could make them work in our overall school system,” said Carol Falkowski. “Transportation was a big issue,” she added.

Falkowski, who began offering educational services through her business Drug Abuse Dialogues after retiring from the public sector, said the P.E.A.S.E. online model is “a great step in the right direction” and the “wave of the future” that other districts should explore.

“Kids need all the support they can get,” she said.

The number of children in Minnesota seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction has decreased in recent years, according to a DHS report submitted to the state legislature in 2015.

The most recent Biennial report on Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Minnesota showed more than 3,500 children between ages 8-17 were admitted to treatment centers in 2014, down from nearly 4,400 in 2012.

But Falkowski says seeking treatment at the age is only the beginning.

“Recovery is longer term,” she said.

Preston Grundy, a senior at P.E.A.S.E., says he initially struggled with recovery after leaving treatment junior year and returning to his former school.

“I immediately went back there and relapsed,” said Grundy, who is scheduled to graduate this June and plans to enroll in a sober college program.

Durchslag, the executive director at the Academy, says any addict will struggle with recovery when they return to the same environment.

“It’s not the school that’s the problem, it’s the peers that they are associated with,” he said.

Durchslag compared it to telling a recovering alcoholic to sit in a bar six hours a day, five days a week and not order a drink.

“In a strange way, that’s what we ask adolescents to do all the time,” he said.

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