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Testing for trouble: Drug testing in schools and at home

Drug use is becoming more common among teenagers. Here is a closer look at how parents and local schools are handling this problem.

An+STA+student+holds+a+handful+of+pills.+photo+by+Gabby+Martinez
An STA student holds a handful of pills. photo by Gabby Martinez

An STA student holds a handful of pills. photo by Gabby Martinez

An STA student holds a handful of pills. photo by Gabby Martinez

by Claire Molloy, Gabby Martinez, and Katie Mulhern

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Story by Claire Molloy

It is first period on Monday morning when the teacher calls his name. He gathers his things and makes his way through the empty halls. He finds the correct room. He realizes his hands are sweaty as he tries to open the door. He keeps asking himself the same question over and over again: “What if I don’t pass?” He sees a lady who seems nice enough waiting for him. She gets out her scissors and cuts a chunk out of his hair and puts it into a bag. That was it, he is done. Now all he has left to do is wait.

This is how some students at Rockhurst High School on any given Monday feel. Pieces of paper are given to the teachers in every classroom with students’ names on them. These are the students who have been randomly selected to be drug tested.

For the past four years Rockhurst has been randomly drug testing students. According to St Teresa’s Academy principal of student affairs Liz Baker, STA will not be following suit. Some students are never tested at school, but may be tested at home.

Rockhurst assistant principal for student life Chris Bosco is in charge of which students are selected for the drug test.

“I use an online random-number generator that selects numbers that I match up against a spreadsheet listing each student alphabetically,” Bosco wrote. “No student is selected by me or singled out by me or anyone else unless the student is due to take his retest after having a previous positive result.”

Psychemedics, the company Rockhurst uses to drug test, uses a hair follicle test, which can detect the use of a variety of drugs and alcohol in a student’s body. The test is capable of identifying the substances as far back as 90 days from the drug test date.

Pediatrician and STA mother, Dr. Marion Pierson, believes that the use of drug testing as a way to identify young adults needing help is a good idea. However, Dr. Pierson does not believe that drug testing should be used as a threat or as punishment.

“…Young people experiment with a lot of things, not just drugs, but life is an experiment in adolescence,” Dr. Pierson said. “But penalizing kids for experimenting without really trying to develop a holistic plan to help them is really not the best way to go,” Dr. Pierson said.

According to Bosco, Rockhurst started drug testing to promote health and wellness among their students. Similar to Dr. Pierson’s philosophy, Bosco states that Rockhurst seeks to help students rather than target them for their drug use.

“As we say to our students, our purpose is not to catch students to punish but instead to find students to help,” Bosco wrote. “We see the use of drugs and alcohol among our students as poor, unhealthy decision-making with lifelong implications for the developing adolescent.”

According to the Rockhurst handbook, the drug testing program does not punish a student for using drugs, if they test positive for drugs or alcohol for a first time. The goal of the program is to help students who are abusing drugs and alcohol.

“As this is a Health and Wellness program, there will be no disciplinary consequences at this time; the purpose of the meeting is to encourage the family to seek the necessary help and interventions,”  the student Rockhurst handbook states.

Students may be tested up to three times before expulsion. Ninety days after the first positive test, a student must retake the test. If he tests positive again, he will be retested in 45 days. However, if he tests negative, he will be placed back into the group for random selection, according to the Rockhurst student handbook.

“If these individuals test positive at any time during their remaining years at Rockhurst, they will be considered a disciplinary risk and placed in the category of a ‘Third Positive,’” the Rockhurst student handbook states. “A student is given only one opportunity to successfully complete the program of drug remediation.”

Photos by Gabby Martinez

While Rockhurst’s drug testing has been operating regularly since 2013, drug testing at STA will not be occurring any time in the near future, according to Baker.

“We are honing you young ladies as leaders,” Baker said. “We trust you will come to school not being impaired.”

Baker’s term ‘impaired’ not only includes the use of drugs, but also the use of alcohol. STA has a breathalyzer that is present at all school dances. Unlike STA, some local schools like Notre Dame de Sion High School conduct random breathalyzer tests upon entering a dance. However, according to Baker, STA’s breathalyzer may be used at any time when it is deemed necessary by staff and administration.

“[STA doesn’t] do random drug testing purposefully,” Baker said. “Unless we feel like there are reasons to randomly drug test, [our decision] is more about your right to come to school without having to have [the stress of a drug test] on your plate.”

Although STA administration does not deem it necessary to drug test, the school is  allowed to do so if they ever feel it becomes necessary because it is a private institution.

Public schools are prohibited from conducting random drug testing. They are, however, allowed to randomly drug test students who participate in extracurriculars and athletics, according to a Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

“In Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.”

While the prominence of drug testing varies from school to school, some students are drug tested at home. Drug testing kits requiring urine samples are sold at many different drug stores. Then a strip is placed in them to see if there are drugs present in the urine.

STA student Sally*, has been drug tested by her parents twice. The first time, they woke her up and gave her a cup to go pee in. This specific drug testing kit tested for Methamphetamine, Heroin, Cocaine and Marijuana. More recently, she was drug tested again because she was caught by a friend’s mother. Because the drug test kits are common, Sally had done her research to avoid being caught by her parents.

“I was tested, and I had fake pee ready,” Sally said. “There was a gas station that my friend knew that sold packages -I believe the brand is Quick Fix Plus. It is this sample of things that essentially add up to be the same thing as urine, but it’s not. It’s synthetic urine. You heat it in the microwave, which somehow I figured out how to do that before the drug test. I put the heating pad on, and then [my dad] drug tested me. And I filled [the cup] up and I passed it. Now my parents think I’m clean.”

Dr. Pierson wants all people, but especially children with growing brains, to actually ‘be clean’ of substances because she believes that people should only put things into their body that they know are good for them.
“We know that growing brains are subject in a much greater way to negative effects from all kinds of things,” Dr. Pierson said. “So we would say, as a pediatric group, as a group of professionals trying to help young people, ‘Don’t open your body up to harm because your brain is still developing.’ There are going to be new things that science discovers about medicine and drugs and how it affects our bodies, but we want to say, ‘Do things you know are helpful to your bodies.’”

Alt-cov by Katie Mulhern

91.8% of high schools in the USA drug test their students (mollerma.wordpress.com)

 

21% of students used drugs at schools that did do drug tests while only 19% of students did drugs at a school that did not test (oureverydaylife.com)

 

“No, (STA shouldn’t get drug tests) because if no one can tell a difference in education, what’s the point to just start kicking people out? Plus if they do, our school will look bad.” -Kira Sanford, STA sophomore.

 

From survey (356 students):

Have you ever tried drugs? 89.3% said no, 9.6% said yes and 1.1% said other

Do you think drug testing is effective: 46.1% said no, 45.5% said yes and and 8.4% said other

Do you think STA should begin drug testing students? 69.7% said no, 19.9% said yes and 10.4% said other

 

“Rockhurst drug testing is a pointless act in trying to find ways to punish kids and cause mayhem in families” -Abraham Mun, Rockhurst Sophomore

 

“STA shouldn’t drug test because it’s an invasion of privacy and kids can just do remedies to get the drugs out of their hair and stuff”- Rose Ammatelli, STA Freshman

 

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Testing for trouble: Drug testing in schools and at home