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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rockhurst High School Will Require Students to Take Mandatory Drug Tests

"The new drug testing policy at one local high school has sent a ripple through Kansas City.
Starting with the 2013-2014 school year, Rockhurst High School will be collecting hair samples from students for random drug testing – and participation is mandatory."

(Christa Dubill, "Rockhurst High School Drug Testing Policy Sends Ripple
Through City," 41 Action News KSHB, January 29 2013)

Approximately 60 strands of hair will be cut from the selected students' heads or bodies (private areas excluded) and sent off for testing by a company called Psychemedics. A staff member at Rockhurst is a barber and will be handling the hair collection.

The school will test for the use of a variety of substances over the previous 90 days, including cocaine, PCP, opiates, methamphetamine, marijuana and binge alcohol.

“Our point is, if we do encounter a student who has made some bad decisions with drugs or alcohol, we will be able to intervene, get the parents involved, get him help if necessary, and then help him get back on a path of better decision making, healthier choices for his life,” Rockhurst Principal Greg Harkness said.

According to the new policy, if a student tests positive for any of the substances, the guidance counselor assigned to that student is notified. The counselor will then bring in the parents and the student to have a conversation about how to best get the student help.

The student is given 90 days to be drug free. No administrative personnel are ever told, and the incident is only noted in the student’s guidance file. That file is destroyed upon graduation and never sent to any college or university. The only way anyone would ever see the documents is if files were subpoenaed.

Rockhurst gave these five reasons for the mandatory testing:
* A Significant Change in Students’ Perceptions

When asked, "Is everyone else doing it," Rockhurst students said "Yes." But, in fact, they weren’t. It’s that perception among teenagers today that fuels the peer pressure – that there’s this idea that "Everyone is doing it, so I guess I have to do it myself."

* Natural Teen Transformation

Adolescents are becoming very independent, so there are things that they do behind their parents’ back – that even the best kids do behind their parents’ back – simply because they are beginning that process of individuation and moving on.

Harkness said. "I have never had an experience as a counselor where parents were completely aware of everything that was going on – and perhaps it should be that way. Part of an adolescent’s life is to be resourceful.

* Publicized Changes with Marijuana in the Country

With continued coverage over the fight to legalize marijuana, the fact that some states have already legalized it and the ongoing discussion about the drug, teens are getting conflicting information.

* New Research on Brain Development and the Internet

Substance abuse at this critical age can have long-lasting effects and can be much harsher on adolescents than on adults and much more addictive  

Harkness said, “We also know teenagers are more susceptible to addiction and intoxication because of their stage of brain development. And so it all adds up to this perfect storm of a conversation, so to speak. We care about kids, and we care about what’s happening to them.”

The Decision To Drug Test

At Rockhurst, parents and administrators have discussed the reasons for and against drug testing for two years. KSHB reports that most parents at the school approve of the plan, but student opinion was mixed.

CBS St. Louis reports a public school would be restricted from doing the same because of the Fourth Amendment. But, Rockhurst is a Jesuit preparatory high school for boys. Tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is $11,100. The local chapter of the ACLU says though not illegal, the school's policy is "a colossal waste of money."

The school assured parents that students on medication for specific reasons (athletic injury, ADHD, or some other condition) won't be negatively affected. Other concerns included that students could go to extremes to beat the test, and students who might indulge of "a glass of champagne at a family wedding" could get a positive reading for drug use. The school has already taken these concerns into consideration and devised satisfactory strategies to deal with them.

And, Rockhurst is still working on this potential problem: What about the kids who shave every inch of hair off their bodies to avoid testing?

Some Reasons Against Mandatory Drug Testing of Students

Of course, many people do oppose mandatory drug testing despite the fact it may be an effective method to save young lives.

* The 4th Amendment states that, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." Schools are supposed to be independent institutions, not some kind of artificially created "government investigating bureaus."

* Drug testing is invasive, and violates students' trust in their schools. Also, drug testing will be very distracting and likely to cause rumor and tumult in the student population.

* Other methods of deterrence are less invasive, such as encouraging extra-curricular activities, drug education, fostering better parental relations, tackling poverty, and teaching safety.

* Young people have a right to expect something different from distrust from their schools and teachers. Students will definitely experience embarrassment as they are stripped of their privacy

* The cost of drug testing is very high (According to Rockhurst officials, their cost will be $58 per test.) Of course, costs may be higher including the entire process of collection, lab analysis, providing test results, and maintaining records. Rockhurst has a senior class of 243 students

* Many youngsters are rebellious and some are eager to protest and break the rules at school. Mandatory drug testing could attract these students towards using illegal drugs instead of preventing use. Add to this, peer pressure is increased as students unite against school authorities.

* Education is the ultimate deterrent, not random testing. If the prospect of running after dragons is not scary enough, then random drug tests sound almost like fun.

* According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2007) in order to prevent drug use you have to go to the root of the problem. The root is fostering better parental relations at home, which is a lot more effective than testing students at home.

* Parents and legal guardians of students should maintain the duty and their primary rights of having their children drug tested when the parents discover suspicious evidence that their children are involved in drug activity.

* The validity of drug testing can be questioned; drug tests are not 100% accurate. The school and its students may experience serious problems as false positive reports occur. No one wants to accuse an innocent person of being guilty and subject that person to serious psychological harm. And, follow-up testing is even more invasive and more humiliating.
My View

Private schools certainly have the right to make special policies. Rockhurst High School is taking what some view as the ultimate step in fighting drug abuse. The word mandatory does put a rather bitter taste in the mouths of all, even the staunch advocates of random drug testing. Why? It smells of major distrust of the majority, ineffective past deterrent policies, and extremely invasive tactics.

The question remains if this mandatory testing is warranted considering the scope and harmful effects of present drug abuse in the school versus the almost certain negative effects, at least in some degree, caused by the imposition of a controversial policy.

I believe Rockhurst is unique in the fact that (according to my research) they are a high school and not a school district complete with grade and middle schools. A school district with younger students would also face the sobering fact that instituting such a sweeping, controversial policy could require going "all the way." Why not drug test their grade school and middle school students?

Do you believe that is just absurd? Well, you may want to consider the facts.

The percentage of students who go to middle schools where drugs are used, stored or sold jumped 63 percent since 2002.
(Report from Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2007)

Even if grade and middle schools have great early intervention and education programs to combat abuse, we know that drug abuse today begins early. The NIDA funded Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use and the SAMHSA funded 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated 19.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current users of an illicit drug in 2007.

ŸOther studies estimate that 20 percent of eighth-graders report that they have tried marijuana. And, the use of Ecstasy has risen among Grade 8 and 10 students. From 2009 to 2010, the use of ecstasy among eighth-graders increased from 2.2 percent to 3.3 percent.

Many parents warn that a major risk period for children starting drug use is the summer between eighth grade and freshman year of high school because of the anxiety associated with the transition. Effective strategies against drug abuse

Another Rockhurst High quality struck me as I read their intention to use mandatory drug testing. Rockhurst is a boys' school. How much more invasive would parents of young teen girls consider this procedure? I can even imagine some girls shaving their heads to avoid being sampled.

I know, I know, testing does not presume guilt. In addition, many occupations require drug testing in the real world of work. I do know, however, that teens are very resourceful and cunning. Would drug testing lead many of them to find new, improved ways to foster deceit? Or does an intrusion from an institution even improve deterrence? I have many questions. I guess I can remain open minded at this point.

My final concern is that Rockhurst parents may decide they don't have to be responsible for closely monitoring the activity of their sons because the school has mandatory drug testing in place. I believe too many parents already believe a school's responsibility of in loco parentis (replacement parents) extends to being responsible not only to teach and maintain all values and ethics but also to insure good behavior of their children in society. I worry about drug testing as a child-rearing strategy.

And just one question to end this post:

Will all board members, administrators, teachers,
and support staff at Rockhurst be required
to take the mandatory drug tests?

I definitely think these adults should be made to comply with statutes concerning the school, drug abuse and public safety. It is only fair that employees, like students, be required to do what is necessary to help any of them get intervention, and as Principal Harkness says, "help them get back on a path of better decision making and healthier choices for their lives."

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